My past treks with CTC have been only to Nagala, so I was eagerly looking forward to any treks organized to other locations. A few such treks were announced during the last 2 months however I was busy at work and couldn't make it. When Prem announced express trek-3 to Kolli, I immediately registered for it. Having been part of Prem’s previous express trek-2, I was looking forward to yet another gruelling trek that constantly challenges the body and the mind.
For some reason, I was not part of the preparatory emails that apparently were exchanged in the group. So, after the confirmation mail, did not hear anything from Prem or others in the group - this made me sometimes wonder whether the trek was really on. Finally, on the D-Day, called up Prem; he said I can come to Kathipara by and join the group.
Came hurriedly home from office by around . My wife was gracious enough to help me pack up quickly even though she doesn’t approve of my trekking adventures. She even dropped me at Kathipara which helped me reach the boarding point on time.
I paced up and down the bus stop a few times to see if I can spot any of our fellow trekkers there but no luck. Getting anxious, called up Vasanthand he confirmed that the bus(actually it was a van but for some reason everybody preferred calling it ‘bus’) has started from Koyambedu and was en-route to Kathipara. He also gave me names & phone numbers of 2 fellow trekkers who were supposed to join us at Guindy - Raguram and Nitin,the IIT student who was later nicknamed ‘noodles hair’. They both were on the way and reached a few minutes before the van arrived. We hopped on and the van proceeded towards Chrompet where we picked up rest of the trekkers and were thenwaiting for Prem to join us.
After an hour or so, Prem arrived and we resumed our journey, picked up Prabhu at Vandalur and proceeded to have dinner at RR Salem Biriyani, near Chengalpet. Enough has been already written by others about how we went on a food rampage there and how big a hole it burnt in our accountant’s (Sollin’s) pocket, so will avoid elaborating further.
It was when we resumed our journey. Shyam, our resident DJ was busy playing some really ‘motivating’ songs (got a feeling that we were going to ayyappan swami temple) from the music system in the van. He also further entertained us with some acrobatic poses - such as ‘leg dangling from rope’. Soon sleep overtook most of us and we gradually slumbered in our seats.
We were woken up again when the van stopped somewhere in the dead of . It was a tea shop - some of us had tea & biscuits while others took the opportunity to stretch their legs and empty their bladders.
The journey resumed and soon it was early morning (around ) when we again stopped at a nondescript rundown place just before Attur (ironically named Taj family restaurant). Prem announced that we were to stay put at this place for a couple of hours as 3 more trekkers who were supposed to join us directly at Kolli were still on the way. Tarpaulins were spread out on the ground and we all tried taking a short nap there. Others who didn't get sleep were simply loitering around or completing their morning formalities. Around we all got up and resumed the journey towards Kolli hills.
Busa and Kathir soon joined us on the way and Surya joined us further down in the journey. This completed the party and we were 19 trekkers in total now. Had heavy breakfast at a busy village just before Kolli and reached a village (called Malliakarai) at the base of the hills at around .
We left behind non-essentials in the van, distributed common stuff amongst us and started walking towards the hills. Crossed a few houses, walked past a few shrubsand soon reached the almost-dry stream bed. This is the starting point of our trek - the plan was to follow this stream and reach the base of the Agaya Gangai falls by evening. For a few moments, we all stood at the stream bed eyeing the hills that loomed at a distance. I didn’t know whether it was a good or a bad omen, but just then, an old village lady appeared out of nowhere and warned us to be very careful at the falls. She said there were strong undercurrents in the falls and bodies of some people who dared take a dive were yet to be fished out. Seeing the trickle flow of water at this spot, the talk of strong undercurrents at the falls seemed incredulous to some of us. Nevertheless, we took her advice in the right spirit and started walking up the stream.
It was past 10AMnow and the trail initially was made of small pebbles and rocks. We also walked past a few villagers who were going about their washing / bathing chores by the stream. Soon we reached a spot where the stream had coalesced into a small dirty pool. Some of our desperate trekkers jumped into the pool while a few others used this opportunity to complete their pending morning formalities.
After about 30 min, we started moving up further along the stream. The pebbles gave way to large rocks and gradually to even larger boulders. The group continued non-stop, occasionally pausing a bit to catch breath as well as to let the trailing folks catch up. The sun was hot and bearing down on us but the trees on the sides provided us some cover and respite. We must have been well into the thick of the forest now as we had not seen any fellow humans or any traces of their habitation for the last few hours.
It was late afternoon by now, when we encountered a mini waterfall that emptied into a small pool. Its water was marginally cleaner and transparent than the first one we had seen in the morning. We all stopped here to have lunch (bread, jam and chips) and some of us splashed around in the pool. There was a ‘Eureka’ moment as well - when somebody spotted a jumping / walking fish that was making its way by hopping up on the rocks, going from the pool below to over the falls upstream. This spot had large flat boulders and would have been an ideal camping site.However we had to continue as our target was to reach the base of the falls by evening.
After lunch, Prem introduced a sense of urgency into the group as only a couple of hours of daylight were left. However the boulders were now really huge and it was not easy to hop between boulders. Sometimes such huge boulders were simply blocking our path - so, instead we were forced to scout for alternate paths around it.
It was when facing one such huge boulder that Vignesh and Prem set out in different directions to find a suitable path for the rest of us. Prem was the first to find a suitable path; so we all called out to Vignesh who had just disappeared into the nearby shrubs to come back. Hearing our voice, Vignesh shouted back - so, assuming he would come back, we all continued trekking behind Prem.
Soon we chanced upon some cows that were grazing in the middle of thestream bed. To see cows in the middle of nowhere was a surprise. We also found a nice trail nearby with colour paint markings. Seeing the cows and the trail, we deduced that this place must have been frequented by the locals. The trailmore or less ran besides the stream and fortunately helped us proceed faster - we covered a distance of about 1 KM or so pretty soon but then the trail abruptly ended back at the stream.
The huge boulders in the stream kept up the challenge and prevented the trekkers from regrouping - so we were trudging along in small groups of 3-4 trekkers. Due to the large boulders, we could not see the group that was behind us. It was nearing now and the lead pair - Prem and Nitin decided to race ahead quickly to check how far it was to the base of the falls - so they left their backpacks behind with me and Kathir.
We started waiting for the group behind us to catch up but none turned up. After around 45 min or so, Prem and Nitin came back and declared that they were able to see the falls from a distance but it might take close to an hour to get there. With light fading fast and no sign of other trekkers, we decided to stop here for the night and continue the trek the next morning.
We had crossed a nice rock face about 300 m before which we thought would serve as a good campsite for the night. So we started trekking back and soon caught up with the rest of the trekkers. It was dusk when we reached the camp site. Then we did a head count and realised to our horror that we were one short! - It was Vignesh who was missing (there is something to going on between the name Vignesh and Express Treks. Even in Express Trek-2, a person named Vignesh went missing at the end)
After some brainstorming amongst us, it was concluded that we had last seen Vigneshat the mini falls where we had lunch. So, an ERT team comprising of 6 folks (Prem, Raghul, Nitin, Sollin, Magesh and ...sorry, I forgot who the last person was) was formed to trek back up to the lunch spot and find Vignesh. The ERT team took essential items and started to trek down. They kept blowing their whistles intermittently hoping Vignesh would be alerted if he was in the vicinity. The ERT team trudged along and soon disappeared from our view; gradually their whistle sound also faded out and we could see or hear them no more.
Hoping the best for the ERT team as well as Vignesh, the rest of us started collecting fire wood in the twilight of the day. Anand lead from the front to startthe cooking activities and soon others pitched in. In a little while, hot soup was getting ready. It was completely dark nowand the camp site was barely illuminated by the dim lightof the half-moon that was out in one corner of the night sky. A gentle breeze set in and the Weather was getting cold - the steamy soup was just what the doctor ordered for the tired souls and it tasted heavenly.Subsequently, boiled rice was prepared which we all had for dinner with kuzhambu mix and onion pakoda for side dish.
After dinner,a few of us went to sleep while others setup a camp fire and gathered around it. Busa was narrating his adventures during the last DFS. After a while, all went to sleep. The red embers left over from the camp fire radiated warmth all around the camp site. With best sleeping spots already taken, I tried dozing off over aninclined uneven rock near to the camp fire.
It must have been around or so, when I saw faint torch lights at a distance. Soon the lights approached closer- it wasthe search party with Vignesh in tow.The bustle created by their arrival made a few of us to get up - we felt a profound sense of reliefhearingabout the success of the rescue mission.
Looks like, Vignesh got lost at the spot where he and Prem went in different directions to find a way over a huge boulder blocking our path. Once Prem found a path, we called out to Vignesh to come back but he could not decipher it properly and assumed we wanted him to continue to search for an alternate path - so he wandered deeper into the nearby shrubs. After sometime, realizing that no one else is following him, he came back to the large boulder but could not see any other trekker or the path that they might have taken. So, instead of setting out to search for us, he wisely decided to go back to the lunch site and camp for the night hoping we will come to rescue him in the night. Otherwise, he was planning to follow the stream and go back to the village in the morning. In fact, when the ERT team eventually found him, he was sleeping peacefully after having cooked and feasted happily on the Maggie noodles. It must have taken a lot of courage to be all alone at night in the middle of the forest - Bravo, Vignesh!
The ERT team,while on their rescue mission had their own share of frightful moments when they suddenly heard some grumbling sound. Thinking it might be Vignesh groaning in pain due to some injury, they followed the direction of the sound only to stumble in front of a dark cave. They were contemplating whether to go in to the cave or not as the sound might even be made by some wild animal inside the cave. However, taking their chances they peeped in with their torches only to find some scary-looking old man lying down and groaning (probably snoring in sleep). We speculated that this must be one of the Siddhar caves, that Kolli is so famous for and its occupant, some kind of modern day Siddhar.
The ERT team had the left over rice and chips (they definitely deserved better for their selfless hard work!) and retired for the night. The night was really cold; the half-moon gave us company for the better part of the night; I had a disturbed sleep and woke up several times in between. Soon it was dawn and people started waking up one by one. Most of them took suitable spots around the nearby slopes to complete the morning formalities.
Anand and Shyam again started the cooking activities for the morning. Hot tea was made and relished by all- we felt instantly reenergized. Subsequently, soupy noodles were made and devoured by all. Soon we cleaned up the camp site and were on our way trekking towards the falls. The boulders here were simply insurmountable which made us realize what a sensible decision it was to not attempt this the previous night. Soon the famed Agaya Gangai falls was visible at a distance but right at the spot where we were, the stream was falling over a small slope creating a gorgeous mini water fall. We spent some time bathing in the falls and while Surya and Siddharth were considerate enough to snap away some lovely photos.
After a few more minutes of trekking, we reached the base of the Agaya Gangai falls. The sight of water falling down from such a huge height was a sight to behold. Soon all of us crossed the shallow pool and stood below the falls. The water falling from such a great height felt like pin pricks on our body; this made us all scream and enjoy the experience. After an hour or so at the falls, we packed up and started climbing the stairs to reach the Siva temple. From a view point in the stairs, we were able to spot our previous night's camp site among the green canopy of the forest.
After further huffing and puffing, we climbed the 1000-odd steps and reached the Siva temple. A few god-fearing trekkers went in to pray while the rest preyed on the eatables being cooked and sold in the shops nearby. Paniyarams, vadas, bondas, banana, jackfruit, herbal tea, herbal soup, omelettes, dosas and what not vanished from the shops in no time. It was almost time and decided to call it as lunch.
After this variety lunch, we trekked to the top of the Agaya Gangai falls. It was only a short trek but the location was awesome with stunning views of the valleys around. We could even see the people down below taking bath at the falls - they appeared as small dots. We posed for a few snaps at this spot and then trekked back to the temple area.
Having conquered the top of the falls, we celebrated it by ransacking a sarbath shop. It was around and there wasa debate as to what to do next. As this was supposed to be a difficult /express trek, few of the trekkers asked for more trekking challenge while others wanted to take it easy and go down the hill by the public bus. One option floated was to travel to a nearby place called Semmedu and scale a peak there, however it was felt that the time available wasn’t sufficient. Finally, it was decided to go to Semmedu where there was a mooligai garden (Kolli is famous for medicinal herbs) - after visiting this place, we were to take the public bus down to Rasipuram. In parallel, our Van driver was also asked to come down to Rasipuram. Meanwhile, Kathir was getting dinner organized for us at his home in Rasipuram.
After 45 min by bus, we reached Semmedu. The garden was a good 30 min walk from the bus stop. We paid the entrance fee and entered the garden only to find that there were no medical plants there. It was only a usual park with some decorative plants. We stumbled upon a children play area there and all of us transformed to kids at once. We went down the slides, jumped up & down in see-saw, scared raghul in the merry-go-round and even managed to terrorizePrem in a swing. Others, who weren’t as much amused by child play, went around the park and found a view post from where they could catch good views of the towns nearby. After this trip to the park, we walked back to the bus stop.
It was past when we boarded a bus to take us down-hill. The bus was already crowded and we had to stand through the whole journey that lasted for about 1½ hrs. Further, the bus had to negotiatearound 70 hair pin bends during the trip which made some of us feel sick. We got down at a place called Kalappanaickenpattifrom where we took another bus to Rasipuram. Our van was waiting for us near the bus terminal at Rasipuram and it took us to Kathir's home where a sumptuous dinner awaited us.
Kathir’s family were extremely friendly and hospitable and we felt at ease. The lavish spread consisted of parrottas, mutton curry, chicken 65, omelette, chips and sweet and we all ate to our heart’s content. After dinner,tea was served to those who wanted. After thanking Kathir and his family, we started our return journey back to Chennai. Again had a disturbed sleep during the van journey; reached Chennai / home early in the morning at around .
With my experience in Express Trek 2, I had expected non-stop trekking, aching legs and only aval & bread for food in this trek as well. Day 1 of the Kolli trek, particularly the afternoon session really lived up to it however the rest of the time was pretty much relaxed and we were treated to good food all along. In fact, when I came home, my wife was surprisedthat I wasn’t limping like last time J Yet, the lively and energetic group, lush green hills, numerous cool and inviting waterfalls, splendid views of the valley from top and last but not the least, playing like kids at the children’s parkdefinitely made this trek a very memorable one for all of us.