Saturday, July 20, 2013

Post Trek Write up - TH-2 Emperors Winning Story

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Treasure Hunt-3 Winning Team: From Left Front- Arun Prasanth, Vara Prasad, 
Premkumar, Nitin, Raja Sekaran.From Left Back Selvakumar, Senthilkumar and Ashok 

Last Year TH-2 Emperors Winning Story:


Wonderful Write Up from Selvakumar:

Time Difference Between the Teams:

Emperors 3 - 7 Hours Won the Treasure in First Day Itself
Emperors  1 - 13.30 Hours + 1 Night Rest
Meerkats/Killer Bees - 14 Hours + 1 Night Rest
The Pirates - 17 Hours + 1 Night Rest
The Clueless Seekers - 18 Hours + 1 Night Rest

Our Clues and Timings

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It was sometime in March that my participation in this year’s edition
of Treasure Hunt as part of Prem’s Emperors-3 team was confirmed. When
I announced this news proudly to my wife, I wasn’t anyway expecting
her to share the same excitement as me however this time she was
unhappy for one more reason that I would be away from home for the
Tamil New Year. I told her I would do my best to finish the treasure
hunt soon and be back early on Sunday to join the festivities at home.
Obviously, at that point in time, I said this just to console my wife
with no inkling whatsoever of what Prem was up to this time - i.e. to
win the Treasure Hunt in 1 day!

Having been part of a couple of treks organized by Prem previously and
seen the demanding nature it, I was anyway expecting this competition
to be even more challenging on body and mind. So started preparing
myself by increased the pace and duration of my workouts at Gym.
However, this time during our phone conversations, Prem kept repeating
our team’s goal of winning in a day and how important it was to train
hard on a daily basis. He even recommended to us to join Express
Trek-4 to improve our endurance levels; a few of my fellow team
members joined but I could not due to some personal constraints.
However what surprised me was Prem’s constant reminding on fitness and
preparation this time which seemed very unusual; this was something he
had not done in the run-up to our previous treks and this made me
wonder whether my preparation was really sufficient. I also
participated in the Map reading / navigation hands-on workshop that
Peter held at his home in April as this time, some TH points were
allotted for quizzes.

As the D-day drew close, Prem called up and informed us that we would
be starting from Chennai the previous evening (12

th April) itself and camp for the night at the Nagala South East Dam.
The idea was to give ourselves sufficient sleep and rest and avoid a
potentially weary early morning journey on the big day.

As planned, we all met up at Koyambedu on Friday evening. I was a bit
late in reaching; Nitin and Varaprasad were even more delayed than me.
So others (Senthil, Raja, Arun and Ashok) started proceeding towards
Nagala in another car leaving behind Prem to wait for us. In the
meantime, I and Prem did some last minute shopping (batteries, wire
cutters, etc.).  Finally Nitin and Varaprasad arrived and we started
driving towards Nagala. At around 9 PM, we caught up with the rest of
the team at Uthukottai and stopped for dinner. Prem was particular
that we don’t eat too much or too heavy foods lest we spoil our
tummies - so, we were strictly asked to eat only 2-3 idlies each.
Fortunately, the restaurant had run out of idlies - so we were allowed
largesse of 1-2 dosas each ☺. Can’t say we ate to our heart or rather
stomach’s content nevertheless the dinner was definitely satisfying.
Stocking some additional supplies (water can, etc.), we left
Uthukottai and reached Nagala South East dam by around 10 PM. We
quickly unpacked our sleeping bags / tarpaulins and prepared to retire
for the night. Senthil and Ashok spent a couple of hours more
pondering over the various printouts of Nagala map, probably
discussing on optimal routes, strategies, etc. I did not get sleep
until late past midnight - so was just lying down observing the serene
surroundings occasionally disturbed by sounds of dogs barking at
something. At a distance, the mighty South peak could be seen standing
tall above the clouds, redirecting the steady stream of moist air
blowing over its peak into forming a thick trail of cloud cover over
the western fringe of Nagala range. All around, it was a wonderful
display by Nature and it was a marvellous treat to watch. Didn’t know
when sleep overcame me however soon it was dawn break and early lights
were visible on the horizon.Treasure Hunt was supposed to be flagged
off from the village nearby the dam only. We wanted to reach the
village early and be on time, so we hurriedly completed the morning
formalities and started packing up. Prem instructed us to keep our
backpacks as light as possible. So, non-essentials such as sleeping
bags, tarpaulins, change dresses, bowl/spoons, etc. were all tossed
back in to the cars. Prem personally inspected our backpacks to make
sure no unwanted items were carried along - even Varaprasad’s
sunglasses were not spared. Some energizing / hydrating food items
were distributed amongst us (1 each of raisin packet, lemon, orange,
apple, snickers chocolate, tang / electrol). All that we packed as
proper food were a few packets of bread accompanied by some Jam and a
Nutella bottle. Even this didn’t last too long - we finished a part of
this food supply for breakfast itself even before starting the
treasure hunt. Being summer season, Prem was extremely thoughtful to
get each of us a white towel to wrap around our heads and protect
ourselves from the hot sun rays. This added to our style quotient as
well by giving us a differentiated bandit-like looks.

After some bit of circling around, we finally reached the designated
gathering point in the village. By then, other teams had also arrived.
The final quiz was conducted on site by the organizers. I, Senthil and
Varaprasad took this quiz for our team. There was a posse of camera
crew from Moon TV who were covering this event. They were also
planning to follow one of the teams into the forest. I was wondering
how they would keep up pace considering their heavy and delicate
equipment. Organizers were busy completing the preparatory activities
and getting ready to start the competition.

In the meantime, Prem worked up a frenzy among us - soon, all of us
were overcome with a “Do or Die” attitude and were raring to go. We
got ourselves drenched in the nearby village pump and gave out a war
cry - “innaike mudippom - ella, intha kattulaye saavom!” (which
roughly translates to “Will finish today or die in the forest!“ - some
of us probably said this more out of realization of our dwindling
stock of food supply ☺). The whole atmosphere at that site was super
charged and even other team members were very animated and running
around. It rubbed off even on the villagers who were watching the
entire commotion initially with amusement but now with more
intensity.Finally, the hunt was about to be flagged off. Each team had
to randomly choose their first clue. Senthil pulled out the clue for
our team and we got Clue #4 - series. Peter then took some group
photos and finally flagged off the hunt at around 8:30 AM. Immediately
the teams started racing each other to reach the base of the hills
quickly.

The fast paced walk towards the base of the hills seemed pretty long
and Prem kept pushing us with his usual motivational talk interlaced
and the occasional warnings and threats of the difficulties that lay
ahead. Just before starting the climb uphill, we took a short
diversion to take a dip in the stream - with this, the last of the
morning formalities (i.e. taking bath) for the day was complete.

As is expected of this part of the hill, the initial ascent was very
steep and I could see everybody getting very exhausted. The relatively
younger / fitter legs kept plodding along relentlessly but I started
gasping for breath and started falling behind a bit. I started
doubting my preparations and even thought for a moment whether I was
wise enough to participate in this competition at 36. However I
dismissed this thought almost immediately and instead reflected on
taglines such as ‘mind over body’. Prem and Senthil who were trailing
us allowed the intermittent 1 minute breaks that helped us recharge
quickly and regain our top game. Soon, my confidence returned and was
no longer lagging behind (believe the initial exhaustion was just a
passé to be blamed on some kind of starting trouble).

Senthil and Prem were navigating with the GPS and were giving us
directions. We are initially following the village trail but soon had
to go off the trail to reorient ourselves towards the location of the
first clue. After trekking for about an hour, we started closing in on
the clue location which appeared to be below a steep rocky slope. We
carefully descended down the slope, zeroed in on the target and
started searching for the clue all around the place. Soon the “eureka”
moment happened and the clue (4a) was found much to our delight - we
celebrated the by roaring out loud and posed for a couple of
photographs to register the achievement.

After the excitement subsided, we started planning the route for the
second clue. From GPS, it seemed about 6-7 Km away. The time was just
past 10 AM now, so we discussed that we should aim to reach it before
noon. We picked up pace and soon reached a plateau on which stood the
well-known transit hut. We were running low on water, so we took a
diversion from here and reached the nearby water point. Like animals
converging around waterhole, we gathered around - water was tricking
down a bamboo stick - we took turns and drank to our satisfaction,
splashed some on to our faces / bodies and finally filled our water
bottles as well. The whole exercise lasted for about 15 minutes - this
was a very welcome break which charged up instantaneously and we
walked back to the hut. From here, we proceeded towards the direction
of the second clue.

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To add to my difficulties, my shoe started giving way - the sole of my
shoe presumably having lost its adhesive, started dangling out from
the bottom. Further trekking only aggravated this but I continued
trekking with it itself partly because the sandals I had as backup
won’t give me the same level of grip as the shoe and partly because I
didn’t want to slow down the group trying to experiment with some
other fixes. We were able to follow a village trail most of the time
and soon reached the 2nd clue location just before noon. We found the clue (4b) hidden in a
tree and again our shouts of joy knew no bounds.

After posing for the customary photographs, we started focusing our
attention on planning the route for the 3rd clue. Prem referred to GPS 

and announced that the third clue wasaround 7-8 Km away and we should aim to reach there by 2 PM.  We had
to again pass by the hut in the plateau where we took a short break
and munched on some bread with jam and chocolate spread. I found some
worn out threads at this site and used it to temporarily secure my
shoe soles (even this didn’t last long though). In the meantime, there
was a discussion on whether to take a detour again for the water
point. We estimated the amount of water left which amounted to around
6L - we thought this should help us scrape through. So, we decided to
skip the trip to water point to save time; instead water was to be
judiciously rationed from hereon. It was around 12:45 pm when we
resumed our trek towards the 3

rd clue. We continued following a village trail but soon it was time
to take a diversion and go off-trail. Our clue was still a good 3-4 Km
away on a nearby ridge. This was one of the most difficult stretches
for us - the hot sun beating down on us, water reserves dwindling and
added to that there was no trail. We just had to wade through thick
shrubs and occasional thorny bushes unmindful of the bruises in the
excitement to get to the final clue. We went down a valley and climbed
over a slope and finally reached the top of a ridge on which stood a
dry tree. As per our GPS, this was the location of the final clue. We
looked around and found the clue perched on top of one of the branches
of the tree. Nitin climbed precariously on to the dry branch and
brought down the clue (4c) amidst the howling of fellow trekkers.
That’s it! We now had the location of the treasure on our hands! And
we couldn’t wait to lay our hands on the treasure itself!

We took the customary group photo displaying the clue while Prem and
Senthil tried working out the location of the treasure point in GPS.
We had to trek back through the same path we came from, reach the
village trail and then get on to the stream to reach the treasure
point. It was past 2:30 pm and we were running slightly behind our
target time - so we couldn’t even stop to enjoy the stunning panoramic
views of the nearby villages from the top. We wetted our lips with
whatever little water was left and bit into the lemons and oranges. On
the way back we saw some villagers who were finishing their day’s work
and loading up the cut branches over their heads. We checked if they
had some water left to spare but no luck. Our throats were dry and we
were feeling very exhausted from thirst but still continued with good
pace in the hope of reaching the stream soon. After an hour or so, the
trail split with one steep path presumably leading down to the stream.
We went down that trail and soon reached the stream. It was a huge
relief to see such a large pool of water and we immediately quenched
our thirst and drenched ourselves in the flowing water.  Prem was now
single-mindedly focused only on reaching the treasure soon - so he
continued almost immediately without waiting for us. I and Arun were
the last ones to pull ourselves out of water. We hurriedly followed
but Prem and rest of the group were moving ahead very fast and quickly
outpaced us. My damaged shoes added to my struggle particularly when
climbing the nearby ridges. However we followed briskly with the rest
of the group just an eye-sight distance away. Soon we could see the
falls at a distance and Peter and rest of the organizing team were
standing at the top of the falls giving us an eager reception.

It was around 4 PM when we all climbed on top of the falls; the GPS
locked this site as the location of the treasure - Bingo! There we
were on the brink of realizing our dream! Prem, Raja and Senthil got
very animated and were briskly swarming around in different directions
trying to find the treasure. A few minutes went by but still no trace
of the treasure. So, Prem and Raja slid down the falls into the pool
and were scouring its dark waters but still there was no sign of the
treasure. The rest of us climbed down the rocks on to the pool and
joined in the search. Very soon, the treasure was located 8 feet below
the water in the dark pool and it was pulled out much to our howling
and celebration of joy! The treasure consisted of 8 red bull cans and
we popped them open right in the pool to celebrate and taste our
victory. All along, the crew from Moon TV were busy recording and the
organizing team were clicking away some very memorable snaps of our
celebrations!

It took us some time for the achievement to sink in and our
celebrations to subside. But slowly other bodily realizations such as
hunger, exhaustion, pain from bruises/rashes also were being felt. We
all settled down around the small pool above the falls where the
organizing team as well as the TV crew were camping. We took a dip in
the pool and were sharing the experiences with the organizing team
members who had actually planted these clues the previous week. The
organizing team had cooked meal-maker curry and white rice for lunch,
some of which were left over and we happily dug into it.

It was late evening now and the light was starting to fade - we were
contemplating whether to return back today itself or stay put with the
organizing team in the camp site for the night. The organizing team
(possibly worried about having to part a share of their dinner with 8
more hungry souls ☺) were urging us to go back or at least go to the
village and buy some food. Raja, Nitin and Varaprasad were very
adamant that we stay put for the night while Prem, Senthil and I
suggested that we return tonight. After taking stock of the situation,
Prem and Senthil announced that we will camp there for the night.Peter
announced that he was going on a casual evening trek over the
surrounding ridges - Nitin and Varaprasad still had enough energy left
that they joined this trek while rest of us huddled around the pool
and indulged in gossiping. It was soon dark and the camp site was now
glittering with the illuminating displays put up by the fireflies.
Peter and rest of the group also came back soon after. The organizing
team were very magnanimous enough to provide us some rations of
ready-made chapattis / curry that we started cooking for our dinner.
They even let us dig into the piping hot noodles that they prepared
for themselves. All the while, Senthil was busy narrating his
exaggerated and scary forest tales with the TV crew who already seemed
petrified with every little noise coming from the surroundings.

It was past 9 PM and it was time to retire for the night. We trekked
about 200m upstream to reach our camp site which was a small clearing
adjacent to the stream - we spread the tarpaulin that Peter gave us
and 11 people (including the 3 TV crew members) huddled into sleep
uncomfortably over the tarpaulin sheet that at best could accommodate
only 6 people. I remained awake almost well past midnight - there was
no space to turn or rollover - even the little sleep I got was very
disturbed. Soon we woke up to the chirping sounds of birds and
gleaming daylight.

After spending an hour or so lazing around and finishing our morning
formalities, we packed up and started to make our way down the stream.
We encountered some of the other TH teams who were rushing past us to
get to their next clues and we wished them luck. We continued further
and reached the Organizer’s camp site - we thanked them for their
hospitality and made our way down to the base of the hills. It was
around 8 AM when we reached the main falls; we climbed down its
vertical face and posed for some final set of photographs before it.
We handed over some of the left-over bread to the old temple priest at
the falls and walked back to the village. We got into our cars,
changed to cleaner clothes and started driving back to Chennai. On the
way, we stopped by Pandian Restaurant at Koyambedu for a sumptuous
meal. After lunch, it was time to get back to our daily routine - we
bid each other farewell - I reached home by around 2 PM on Sunday.

I take this opportunity to thank all my team members - Prem, Senthil,
Raja, Ashok, Arun, Nitin and Varaprasad. It was great camaraderie all
around guys and I enjoyed the moments spent poking fun at each other.
It was a privilege to be a part of this winning team and be able to
observe first-hand the way Prem meticulously planned and executed the
strategies and the calculated chances he took that almost always
worked out to our advantage. Right from choosing the apt team (each
with a specific often unstated purpose), prior focus on fitness
training (by pushing us into express treks), conducting special map
reading sessions at his place, controlling our diet from previous
night onwards, giving us rest by camping at Nagala the previous night,
being ruthless in ensuring a light backpack (to the point that we
didn’t even have change clothes for night ☹) and even getting us towel
to protect from hot sun, Prem was a genuine leader and was ably
supported by Senthil. Also, their extraordinary knowledge about Nagala
- such as the terrain, various village trails, water points etc. is a
deadly combination that would be hard to beat any day.Looking back, I
consider myself extremely lucky to be part of all this. Actually, I
was not originally intending to participate in this competition but
ended up being part of Prem’s team purely by destiny. It was only
during my later interactions with other fellow trekkers that I
realized how much prized and competitive it was to bag a spot in
Prem’s team. It was exactly a year before that I started my first trek
with CTC (on the eve of Tamil New Year 2012) and I am pleased that the
first anniversary culminated for me with such notable achievement. I
am deeply grateful to CTC and its Organizers for helping me live my
dreams! 

Thank You!

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Thanks To Peter and Organising Team
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