Post Trek Write-up - Treasure Hunt 2 - Gayathri, Maverick Meerkats

Friday, May 11, 2012
Last year, I had barely managed to finish a couple of moderate treks when I saw the invite for TH. Though I was fascinated by the idea of a treasure hunt, especially on a trek, I did not have enough courage to push myself to join any team. My philosophy is quite straightforward – I’ve never wanted to be viewed as a burden. The least I could do for the team is to take care of myself and ensure that I do not come in the way of other’s fun and happiness – either by being slow or by getting injured! So, in view of social welfare, I stayed out of it! 

Imagine my thrill on receiving the invite for TH2? However I was soon dismayed to find out that it was scheduled for the weekend after PX6. Having booked my tickets and being one of the confirmed participants for PX6 right from the beginning, despite stringent and innovative methods of shortlisting, it meant that I had to miss TH2 as I can’t take leave on consecutive weekends (I work 6 days a week).  

My participation in TH2 – should I say it was an act of fate? Or, to those who do not believe in destiny, should I say it was a mere coincidence? Either way, what actually happened was that I had to drop out of PX6 (which, by the way, was an utter disappointment) due to some unavoidable circumstance and hence could transfer my leave for TH2. I learnt that from every disappointment stems an adventure.  

Nachiketa & Mani asked me to join their team – the Maverick Meerkats! And so I did. It was a strong team with mostly seasoned trekkers (except me) – Mani, Nachi, Raj Jacob, Ela, Rajesh, Arun Sekhar, Vipin Lal and few others. The irony was that the guys who initiated and formed the team – Nachi & Mani, amongst few others had to drop out due to some pressing commitments/injury. A team that initially had a member base of 11, had to manage with only 7 . We were faced with the uncertainty of further dropouts leading to disqualification of the team on the grounds of minimum size till the last minute – what with Arun wanting to go to Rat Tail Falls and charming Ela and Vipin to follow suit?! 

Finally, we set off at 4.30 a.m, a 7-member team comprising Rajesh, Praveen, Samim & myself from Anna Nagar, in Praveen’s car. Ela waited for Arun who was  to be picked up on his bike at Nathan’s CafĂ© in Koyembedu. Arun did not pick up our wake up calls which indeed gave us peptic ulcers but finally he managed to turn up at TP Kota (a few minutes ahead of us, advantage: bike ride), where the teams were to receive the instructions for the Hunt.

There were 5 teams lead by Prem, Arun Prabahar, Alex, Arun/Vipin & Brijesh respectively. The rules were quite clear – each team would be given a clue to start with apart from which there would be three more clues to be unearthed to reach the treasure (treasure was to be collected from Peter at a specific location and the third clue of every team would direct the members to Peter). Subsequent to finding each clue a photo of the team members (except the one capturing the snap) with the clue was to be taken. The treasure could be collected from Peter only upon producing these photos as well as all the clues.

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Maverick Meerkats set out to take up the challenge. First clue was picked up by me and it had the coordinates (N 13, 30’, 53”; E 79, 49’, 20”) and read “Come and stand below me. Feel the liquid of life dripping down.” We plotted the coordinates on the map as well as on the GPS and realised it was a little above the dead end pool. Having started the mission at 7.00 a.m, we reached the first pool at around 8.10 a.m. We had a stopover for breakfast and the organizer team with Peter and Nobal joined us. Bread with peanut butter, cheese spread and nutella was the menu. We were just wrapping up when Prem’s team came running towards us – they had already located their first clue! This piece of news did nothing to get us anxious. Our attitude was as cool as ever. We set out to complete the hunt to get to the treasure and that remained our main focus. We proceeded to the dead end pool, ferried our bags across and crossed the pool to the other side. The location of our first clue required that we climb above the dead end pool, so instead of going straight towards the picnic pool, we had to take a diversion to the right after the dead end pool. The climb was quite tricky and steep. There was hardly a trail and we found ourselves hugging and whispering loving words to big boulders that was our pillar of support. There was hardly any place for our footing and it was almost always on delicate equilibrium that we thrived! The beauty ofthis part of Nagala  amazed me. Nagala East has more water bodies than the West. I was told by the navigators – Arun & Vipin that we had just crossed the seven obstacles pool to get to the exact spot of our clue. There was a miniscule fall from above, standing under which, we could feel the liquid of life – ‘water’ dripping down our sweat drenched body. Gorgeous place, bright and lively green bushes all around with controlled trickles of water falling down and fast ,  disappearing under the damp, slushy ground – I was riveted to the spot admiring the beauty that beheld my eyes. We had found the location, but what we could not find was the clue. We searched for over 10 to 15 minutes and finally Rajesh found it stuffed into a crevice on an adjacent rock. Shouts of ecstasy followed the cracking of our first clue. Joyous, smiling faces captured on the first snap! Arun, the team’s photographer, captured the euphoric moment – picture perfect, it was!

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We retraced through the seven obstacles stream back to the fork of diversion after the dead end pool and resumed our journey towards the picnic pool. 

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Why picnic pool? Because, our second clue said – “I stand high and tall. Overlooking the picnic pool, with the central peak towards my right” (coordinates: N 13, 31’, 20”; E 79, 48’, 17”)! It was a no-brainer to decipher this one – obviously it was a rock/ridge of some sort standing tall and towering over the picnic pool. Initially our plan was to find the second clue and then take the lunch break. However, upon reaching picnic pool at around 12.00 noon, we decided against our original plan and settled down for lunch. The decision was aided by the fact that the climb above picnic pool towards our second clue was going to be tough in the absence of a trail, especially under the blazing heat of the sun, for which we needed an additional boost of energy. Chapathi and tomato pickle beckoned us. Peter and Nobal were there as well, resting and watching the fun. When we were about to leave, Peter specifically asked us to take a dip in the pool as he said the climb above is going to be tough given the May-heat. Diligently each one of us took a dip and moved on. The beginning of the climb was a bit tricky but then after few minutes we reached a valley, right above the picnic pool. The GPS recordings indicated that we had a climb of around 150m to reach the ridge. It was the first time that I started using a wet towel on my head, upon coaxing by my dear team mates. The wet towel on my head was a welcome relief from the scorching sunlight. Surprisingly, with the towel on my head, my hair didn’t come onto my face while climbing. The climb was mostly at a steep gradient with huge boulders which scalded the skin even when used as a grip for a few seconds and the absence of shade from trees did not help much. We paused after the first 40 minutes of the climb. Arun and Vipin went ahead with Ela to check out the ridge. As I was catching my breath, I heard cries of thrill, jolting me back to reality. Praveen and I ran to the source of the noise and called out to Ela. They all confirmed our suspicion of having unravelled the second clue. The ridge stood out from all others and to the right was the central peak. Climbing onto the ridge was a bit complex, as one step amiss and the taste of free fall w ould become a reality. Again, I stood mesmerized by the mind-blowing exquisiteness of the scenery encompassing me. I was so glad to have been on TH2 that gave me  glimpses into the unseen loveliness of Nagala. I have been to Nagala around 8 times and thought I’d seen most parts of it. Though I meant to always come back to Nagala for more, I never imagined that the unseen peaks and valleys of Nagala would still intrigue me with incredible intensity. 6 of us got onto the ridge and I realised the photographer had taken leave to a boulder at a lower level beside the mighty ridge where we were all perched for a snap. Enchantment and pride, yet again did its round on our minds, reflecting with ease on our faces. Arun captured this moment with the finesse of a professional!

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Expression on our face changed the instant our eyes grasped the third clue along with its coordinates (N 13, 29’, 06”; E 79, 47’, 10”) – “Near by the lonely tree, unable to breathe”! I just freaked out when I heard the location of this clue. It was somewhere close to the south eastern stream and a solid 4 to 5 hours away from where we stood – horror rooting us firmly to the ground! We had hoped to solve the third clue before camping on Saturday night. All hopes suddenly gone with the wind, we just stared at each other for a few minutes unable to make up our minds on what next. Finally, the navigators – Arun & Vipin along with Rajesh said that we should first go down and subsequently decide on the future course of action. A two and a half hour ascent became a one and a half hour descent – away from the picnic pool, towards the central peak!

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At many instances during the trek two things struck me – I was mentally geared up to go through a moderate/moderate+ trek, but as we were swept into the meandering spin of TH2 it swiftly turned out to be a difficult one and the stamina that I possessed during PX5 seemed to have completely deserted me. When I voiced both these thoughts, I understood I wasn’t alone in pondering over them. Rajesh also said he felt his speed of PX6 has obviously deserted him given his current pace. Then again, the whole thing could be nailed down to the  “heat” of early May. 

Following the eastern pool, we kept moving towards the base of the central peak. It was already 5.30 p.m and lot of deliberations on when and where to camp took place, without any clarity. Finally at 5.50 p.m we decided to camp where we were, beside a couple of thatched roofs as further progress would mean trekking post dusk and camping after two hours. Vipin was the catalyst in this decision as he was clearly not upto night trekking. Plus, our chilled out team’s main focus was completing the hunt and enjoying the whole experience of team spirit and landscape rather than getting anxious about the timing. 

Once at the campsite beside water, we settled down and stretched our worn out limbs, the moans of pleasure echoing through the surrounding dusky ambience. Succour to the body emboldened the mind which commenced an analysis of the situation, teams and possible timelines. We had concluded that Prem’s team would have finished the hunt (at 6.30 p.m) and that the other emperor’s team would also be faced with a similar fate. We fervently hoped the other teams would give us company the next day. The comforting thought was Peter’s revelation that difficulty level was equal across clues and teams. 

After rest to body, the stomach expressed its protest vehemently at being ignored for over 6 hours. Dinner, or the lack of it, gave us a sinking feeling. Why? We wanted to capitalize on the magnanimity of other teams, by borrowing their pot for cooking our dinner. Not for one moment did we consider the chances of not camping with other teams. Nevertheless, necessity is the mother of invention. We used whatever we had, to manage dinner, though not a sumptuous meal (that would have been a welcome relief to our growling stomach), a decent one, enough to stop our stomach from making rumbling sounds. Thanks to Ela for his apple pie! Sleep claimed us within the few minutes of stretching out on our mats. I woke up through the night to admire the silver of the moonlight washing everything under its expanse with mysterious, yet spectacular shadows. Such admiration, despite sleep’s attempt at drowning my senses was only possible due to the magnificence of the sight that embraced me!

Samim was always ready for exploration and assisted Arun & Vipin in navigation at all palces. Praveen was a constant pillar of strength! Ela and Rajesh were forever, either ahead/behind me patiently listening to and letting me babble (which is a regular occurrence, especially during a difficult trek) – much needed moral support! 

Maverick Merrkat’s navigator cum human alarm, Arun, woke us up at 6.30 a.m and we started our journey at 7.05 a.m in search of the third clue. We climbed up towards the central peak water point and reached Peter’s team at 8.30 a.m. There we got wind of the state of affairs of all other teams – Prem’s team had found their treasure at 11.30 p.m., Brijesh’s team was just collecting their treasure, Arun Prabahar’s team was at clue three and the other team was at clue two. So, Peter said we stood a good chance of coming third if we left immediately and that it would take around 40 minutes from the water point. Feeling a renewed surge of energy, we ran in search of clue three. Peter mentioned that we had to walk along the grassland and that there would be waterfalls at the spot. However, ‘along the grassland’ was forgotten and ‘waterfalls’ remained ingrained in our minds. At an inflexion point, we had two options – walk along the grasslands or go down to check out the waterfalls. Our decision was to check out the waterfalls. There was no trail, unmanageable number of thorny bushes, entwined roots and branches of shrubs which took away almost two hours of our time. We came back to the inflexion point absolutely dejected and demotivated. In fact, at 11.25 a.m we were tempted to give up and retrace to the coordinates of Peter & Co. Five minutes of rest and reflection reiterated the purpose of our participation in treasure hunt – completion! We decided to rise above all odds to locate the third and final clue (since we already knew the location of the coordinates N 13, 29’, 35”; E 79, 47’, 40” of the third clue– Peter’s Den). Within 20 minutes of the decision, we had found the spot where the clue lay inside a small pool of water, unable to breath, beneath a lonely tree, thanks to Vipin & Rajesh! The grandeur of the find electrified our souls – “I rise from the ocean, I fall from the sky, I flow inbetween”! As usual Arun was perched on a boulder, overlooking the spot of the clue, ready to click the victory picture. At 11.45 a.m we were done finding all our clues, taking a break for a few minutes, we started our march to collect the treasure. We met a couple of teams on the way and heard that Peter was wrapping up and getting ready to leave. So we ran, and reached the water point in 20 minutes. We became the fourth team to have completed the hunt. But, the number did not matter. All that mattered was that we completed the hunt! And what a treasure it was – box of chocolates; certainly the best of the lot! Not having had breakfast/lunch, the chocolates just disappeared in no time! “Cheese” – the proud moment was captured and framed forever by Durai & Peter – seven of us with all the clues; hungry, yet beaming, satisfied and blissful faces.

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We retraced with Peter, Nobal and other participants. Had a half hour pause at a pool near the exit point which definitely had a cooling effect on us, picking mangoes from trees and treating our taste buds to age-old combination of mango with salt.

Many times through the hunt, we were discussing the efficiency of planning and execution of the whole event in awe and reverence, a meticulous effort by the organizing team. The clues were intriguing and kept our anticipation at a constant high. Finally what stood out was the fairness of the clues. Each team had to go through equal rigor to get to the treasure. 

They say the spirit behind any competition is participation, more than winning. Each team proved its spirit by being there, going all over Nagala and beating the heat – never mind the result!

With such a lovely team, a fulfilling experience and unimaginable levels of fun, I was bathed in ineffaceable elation! 

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Maverick Meerkat's GPS Trail of TH2

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