Sunday, June 22, 2014

Go... Let Go... Jump !!!! --- Bungee jumping in Rishikesh

Go.... Let Go... Jump !!! 

If jumping off an 83m cantilever beam or swimming down the rapids in the Ganges is your thing then look no further than Rishikesh. Touted as an extreme adventure zone in India, it truly lives up to its name. We checked into one of the many hotels in Tapovan after coming back from our Kuari Pass trek.
We started early the next day and reached the office of Jumpin Heights – the only ones to organize bungee jumping in India. We paid a hefty 3000 per head for the bungee and another 500 for the transport and entry fees and boarded their bus which took us to a village called Mohan Chatti which is about 40 kms away from Tapovan. Once we reached the site, we were given a briefing about the safety standards and other activities at their site.
We then signed up for the flying fox activity in which our backs were attached to an overhead wire which was running across the valley. Once the gates were opened, gravity took over and we sped along the wire into the valley below. It was not very adventurous and was boring and regretted having paid for it. Next we walked to the bungee jumping installation where they had erected a cantilever beam. We were categorized into the red, blue or green based on how heavy we were. I happened to fall into the red category while my friend was in the green category. Jumps are organized based on the colour. People who were categorized into green jumped first followed by blue and then finally red. As I walked the ramp from the waiting area to the jump area, I could feel the tension rising inside me. Once I reached the jump area, the jump masters suited me up and I was ready for the jump. Once I was at the edge of the beam, I looked down and my stomach felt like it was stuck in a whirlpool going deeper and deeper every millisecond. The jump master was instructing me as to how I should jump with my hand stretched wide without any fear. I heard only half of what he said. A thousand questions were going through my mind. What would happen if the rope snapped? Will I be alive at the end of it? What if I get hurt badly? Did they tie the rope properly? How can I be so sure that they have not forgotten anything? And just as the jump master began counting to three, I decided to let go, to let go of everything. As soon as he counted 3, I jumped. Hands stretched wide, I leaped into nothing. As I hurled down, the few miliseconds of free fall was best feeling I had ever experienced my entire life. I was floating in mid air. It was not long before a sudden jerk bought me back to reality. I had reached the lowest point and I started to bounce up again. As I kept swinging like a giant pendulum, the jump master lowered me and the support staff down below helped me get down and pinned a badge on my chest! It read ‘I’ve got Guts’!
As I started hiking back the 83 m to the road, I recounted the whole episode and fought the urge to do it again.

This is the video of my jump. Action starts at 1:10

Have you ever done a bungee jump? Please do share your experience here.

If you still haven’t jumped yet, you are missing a life changing experience. This is should be next thing in your to do list. Go, Let Go, and just jump!

Safety –
Jumping heights do not compromise on safety. They have a very good track record and the jump masters and support staffs from New Zealand seem very well trained.
Tips –
Do the jump early in the morning if you intend to do rafting on the same day. You will have plenty of time after the jump to come back to rishikesh for rafting. They are usually full on the weekends and mostly cancel their last bus from Rishikesh which is not mentioned in their site. The whole experience is slightly pricey but totally worth it.
Cost –
INR 3000 for the jump
INR 750 for a mediocre video
INR 500 for the bus and entrance. They have various combos. Do check out their website.

While you are at Rishikiesh, do make it a point to do the river rafting in the Ganges on the 39 km stretch between Marine drive and NIM beach – a truly worthwhile experience. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sakleshpur ~~ In touch with nature

Sakleshpur -- The little known paradise

Towering peaks to trek, off roads to bike, small hills to spend an evening with your loved one or  just sit by the campfire and read a book or laze away . If any of these is what you like to do on a weekend then look no further than Sakleshpur. Located at the foot hills of the western ghats 240 kms from banglore on the manglore highway, Sakleshpur is definitely one of the places that you can visit on a weekend if you intend to get away from the blaring horns and pollution of Banglore or Chennai and still be in touch with nature.
After some research and a dozen phone calls, Ranjani and I decided to stay at Baalecool a relatively new resort. Though nothing much had been written about it on the net, we decided to go for it as it was located quite far away from the city and deep into the ghats. We informed them about our arrival and they arranged for a jeep to pick us up at Sakleshpur.

We arrived at Sakleshpur at about 2 PM after a rocking ride in a pre-independence era jeep. The resort was very inviting and nicely themed to have very less impact to nature. After a delicious Malnad lunch, we were shown to our room and told that we should be ready at 5 for a trek to a nearby peak from where we could see the sun set.

Halkulla peak
We promptly buckled up at 5 and went downstairs and met Gagan who was the guide for our trek to Halkulla peak. He took us through a small trail out of the resort into the jungle. We gradually ascended to the peak. The views from the peak were nothing less than stunning. It was a surreal experience to be surrounded by mountains and forests. It was the first time we watched the sun set from a mountain peak. We sat there absorbed by the beauty of the mountains whilst hearing Gagan’s experience with the wild at this same spot where he even claimed to have a seen a lion. We then spent the rest of the evening singing songs around a campfire, atop a small hill, with a lovely Marwari family

Nannebhairaveswara and Ettinabhuja:
The next morning we visited theNannebhairaveswara temple, a 100 year old structure which held the deity of Shiva. The winding road leading to the temple took us deeper into the Western Ghats, a perfect place for an off road bike trip.
From the temple, we trekked for about 2 hours to reach the peak of EttinaBhuja. It was the first time I had ever seen a peak which had a gradual slope on one side and a straight vertical drop on the other. The views from the peak were just spectacular. The temple seemed light years away from the peak. We then returned back to our resort and spent the rest of the day lazing around.
Route to Nannabhaireveswara temple

Ettina Bhuja as seen from the temple

Dalduddhi Peak
The next morning I went on a short hike to the see the sun rise from the peak of dalduddhi. It was an eternal feeling to bask in the first rays of the sun. Once the sun started rising, the clouds started drifting apart revealing the peaks hidden which was like a revelation. It was a sight to behold ! 

Sunrise from Dalduddhi 

“Miseries are like the clouds blocking the beauty behind. All it takes is a warm smile to get rid of it”

Directions –
Drive 240 kms on the manglore highway from Banglore. If you plan to reach by bus, take the A/C Volvo from banglore. Ensure you do not leave any carbon footprint behind.

Places to stay
Baalecool nature stay (2500 per person per day)
Rottikallu resort

Tip – Ask your hosts to take you on nature walks / treks in the surrounding areas. There will not be any phone signal except BSNL. The nearest ATM/pharmacy is at Sakelshpur so ensure you are well stocked. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bare footing in Western Ghats -- A trek to Kudremukha

The sudden drop in temperature woke me up. It was 6 30 in the morning and I lazily pulled up the window to take a look outside. The winding road with dense green foliage on both side and the slight drizzle made the whole scene very picturesque. It was the perfect start of a weekend after spending the previous weekends at work. We were at Marasanige, a sleepy little town in the Western Ghats in Karnataka. We stopped at the lone restaurant in the town and filled our tummies with Mangalore Buns, a local favorite made with banana batter.

Half an hour later we got down at Ballegal which was the start point of our trek to Kudremukha. The forest check post at Ballegal, where one could buy tickets for the trek wore a deserted look. We enquired around and found that we had to pay the govt. trekking charges of Rs. 275 per head to a local shopkeeper. The base camp for our trek, Mullodi, was about 7 kms uphill from Ballegal. As we were already late, we hired jeeps to take us to Mullodi. Thrashed by the monsoons, the jeeps literally begged for mercy on those roads. It took immense efforts for us to hold on to the bars to avoid falling. The jeep driver told us that he would seek blessings from the almighty every time he rode on these roads. Finally, after a rough 40 minutes, we covered the 7 km drive to the base camp. 

I could hear the sound of the gushing stream from the base camp. While waiting for the other jeep, I quickly went down in search of the stream and found one of the most gorgeous falls that I had ever come across. The flow was enormous due to the recent rains and threatened to sweep away anything that came in contact with it. After clicking few pictures I went back to the base camp by which time the other jeep had arrived. All of us picked up food packets for lunch. The guide we had hired briefed us about the trek and insisted very firmly that we come back before darkness. 

Twenty minutes into the trek and all of us were down checking our legs. The area was infested with leeches. At any point in time, we could see at least 4 to 5 leeches on each of our legs. Initially we were a bit jittery about leeches and kept pulling them out every five minutes. An hour into the trek, we got used to them and stopped worrying about them. As we trekked into the thick forests, we crossed numerous waterfalls and streams where we refreshed and rejuvenated ourselves. Meanwhile the rain was showing no mercy and continued pelting at us making the trek harder.

An hour later, as we gained altitude, the vegetation started changing. The thick dense forests gave way to the vast expanse of Rolling Meadows. It was one of the most spectacular pieces of landscapes I had ever seen. I stopped for a moment gasping for breath. It was truly a sight to behold. The entire stretch through the grasslands was very slushy due to the rains. It was here that my slipper snapped into 3 making it impossible for me to even try and fix it. Cursing myself for not getting my shoe, I started walking with bare feet. Walking on that slushy leech infested terrain without knowing what I was stepping on was very frustrating but I had no choice at all. 

We now started ascending on the ridge that would take us to the Kudremukha. After climbing for half an hour we found it very difficult to continue. The rain was falling harder, the breeze was even fiercer and the slopes were becoming steeper. The temperature was about 18 degrees and all of us were shivering clinging on to each other to find some kind of warmth. We then decided to turn back as most of us were unprepared for this kind of a trek. We had lunch and started descending.
Like always, the descent was madness. The slopes that seemed gentle while ascending now looked steep and treacherous. It took us about 3 hours to get back to the base camp where we were welcomed with hot tea. We informed the locals at the town to bring the jeep and while waiting for it, our guide offered to take us to the waterfall which I had been to in the morning. It was a very short trek to the falls and all of us wasted no time in jumping into the pool. Fifteen minutes later, all of us left the base camp by jeep to Ballegal. Tired and torn, I immediately fell asleep on the bus waking up at Agumbe where I had one of the best meals. More about Agumbe in my next blog!!  
Though the Kudremukha peak eluded us this time it has given me lots of wonderful memories to hold on before we try this once again.

“Patience is an art well learnt when one is at the mercy of nature”

Directions - 
Take cab / bus to Balegal on Kalasa main road (330 km)
Take jeep from Balegal to Mullodi (700 Rs per jeep for one way - 7 km)
Start trek from Mullodi (Camping facilities available as well in Mullodi)

Expenses - About 1500 - 2000 per head.

Tip - 
Start trek early so as not miss the peak. Carry ponchos if trekking in monsoon season. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

My greatest adventure so far - Part 2

Read part 1 here

There was a huge bee hive to my right. I could have touched it if I had extended my hand a bit. It was that close.  A chill ran down my spine. I kept quiet and asked Subha to move very quickly and silently. I was climbing up frantically and there was still about 15 – 20 feet of tough vertical climb before flat open space. I knew that I had to go to the top immediately if I were to remain unscathed. Then suddenly it all started. I felt a sharp sting on my right ear. Normal human response would be to wave and ward off the bees. But having seen a similar situation during the organisers trek, I knew I had to keep quiet. I just sat wherever I had space and in front of me was Nobal. He quickly covered both our heads with his sleeping mat but that was doing no good.  As I was already stung, I was like a huge blinking spot on their radar. All of them started targeting me. I was starting to lose hope. Nobal urged me to stay still and keep quiet. I couldn’t. They were stinging me all around. I told him “Machi naangaali da”. I decided. Climbing up was the only way I could try and do something. Descending or staying there would have been suicide. I started climbing with all my might, making sure not to lose my grip or put the wrong foot. I kept climbing while they kept stinging. Finally, I reached the top and by then I had decided what I would do next. I had a sleeping bag inside my backpack. I had to take that out and get inside. I removed my backpack and took out my sleeping bag. The bees now started stinging my back which was previously protected by the backpack. I started running trying to open my sleeping bag. The bees were just everywhere. At one point, I couldn’t even see where I was running. And then I saw someone under a tarpaulin. It had space for one more. I quickly jumped underneath it. It was Srikanth inside. He had a bedsheet and quickly covered both of us. We then killed the bees which had entered the tarp and finally the stinging subsided. But the bees did not leave. They kept banging against the tarpaulin and kept circling overhead. They just wouldn’t let go. After a while, I heard Subha running and she was shouting for rescue and help. We quickly let her into our tarpaulin and in the split second it took us to let her in, few more bees stung me. It was very frustrating and annoying. I was just hoped that this would get over soon. We then stay put inside the tarpaulin. It seemed like forever. My legs were placed in an awkward angle and I couldn’t risk moving it. The heat inside was terrible. We were sweating abnormally. There was no fresh air coming in. It was suffocating, de hydrating and paining. I thought I was going to die!
Meanwhile Ganesh couldn’t find any place or tarpaulin where he could find safety. He was continuously shouting for help. We were just as helpless. The makeshift tent couldn’t have accommodated him. We just painfully heard him cry out for help. He then asked for matches or lighter to start a fire. Srikanth had a lighter which was in his bag outside the tarp. We quickly got the bag in, took the lighter out and threw it out. Ganesh picked it up and started to make a fire. It takes a lot of courage and guts to do that. I couldn’t have done such a thing. Hats off to him. Finally I heard the crackling sound of fire and I could feel some sense returning to me. He then asked somebody to come out and help him make a bigger fire. By then, there were only some 5 or 6 bees circling us. Since Srikanth hadn’t been stung, he felt a lot better and went out and got the fire raging. Finally we managed to get the bees back off. Victory at last!
I was in no hurry to come out of the tarpaulin. I kept staying inside for a long time and fell asleep. It could have been a few hours or it could have been few minutes, I had no way of knowing how long I slept. After a while, Peter came up and I felt a bit safer. Ok! Finally some help, I thought. He told us that Nobal fell from a rock and had blacked out. I really hoped that he would be OK. We quickly took a head count. There were 5 of them below the ridge who had moved to safety and 8 of us including Peter on the top. That meant 4 missing. Ahhh crap!! All of us hoped that they were safe. With Nobal down and 4 people missing, the situation was out of control. We had to call for help from outside. Luckily we had network coverage as we were on the top of the ridge. Peter called up Durai and informed him of the situation. Durai meanwhile contacted other organisers / core members and soon a team was getting ready to come and rescue us. We gave them the latt and long of our location. We dint expect them to reach before night fall. We had to spend the night in the forest.
Meanwhile few more people who were earlier missing came looking for us and then we took a second head count and now all 17 of us were there. Bingo! No one lost. Peter immediately called up Durai and informed him that all the members were accounted for and now the problem was Nobal’s injuries which still required help from outside as he wasn’t able to walk.
Peter asked us to move to a safer place and said he was going to go down to check on the others. Karan found a safer place 100 mts ahead on the ridge and all of us moved to safer ground. There were still few bees circling us but they didn’t attack. I heard someone say that the bees were on surveillance. “Screw them” I thought. Once on safer ground, I slept, losing track of time. Sometime later, Peter came back and said that we had to move down and join others. I thought it was going to be impossible. I was in severe pain and each movement of my hand or leg required lots of energy and even more of confidence both minimal at that point. Staying back on the top of the ridge would have been a bad decision. One – There was no shelter and it had already started becoming cold. Two – there was a chance that those bees would start attacking again. I didn’t have the energy to go find my backpack and everyone said that we could come back and get it later. We started moving down the ridge and it was really painful. I had lost my specs when I was running away from the bees and my limited vision made it even more frustrating. By the time we reached down, it was already dark. I had some water and just sat down and started pulling out the stings one by one. I had to get help from Subha and Shailesh to pull out a few. Meanwhile those who were alright and hadn’t been stung started caring for the others by providing water, food etc. The whole scene looked like a medical camp after a war.

Nobal was lying down by the fire. He seemed to be in a pretty bad shape when I saw him. His eyes and hands were swollen. His speech was slurry. Many others had already dozed off. I couldn’t find a proper place to sleep. We were on the stream and there was no flat space at all. I sat beside the fire for some time. I was very hungry as I hadn’t eaten anything apart from apples since afternoon. There were few kakhras but I wasn’t able to eat those. I had few pieces of apples and oranges. I suddenly felt nauseating. Everyone told me that the poison would go out if I threw up. I wanted to throw up but I couldn’t. There was nothing to come out. I felt my stomach muscles contracting and it was very painful. Every single movement caused a lot of pain. At that moment, I decided not to trek anymore. It wasn’t worth all this risk.
We were staying an extra night in the forest. We had to inform our parents not to worry and we would be safe. More importantly we had to inform our bosses and girlfriends. Peter and Karmu took down all the contacts from us and went up the ridge where they would have network coverage. I had already told my Mom that I wouldn’t be coming home when I was at the top. I gave my colleagues number and asked Karmu to pass on the message. 
Meanwhile I found some flat surface next to Nobal under a rock and I quickly slid into my sleeping bag. It was the only thing that I could retrieve after the bee attack. Half an hour later, I started shivering. My temperature started to shoot. I longed to be at home.  I wanted the warmth of my blankets. Being deep inside the forest, all I could do was keep my hands between my legs and get some warmth. I was finding it very difficult to sleep. It was very annoying and frustrating. I again decided “No this is not worth the risk. I will not trek again.” 
Finally I managed to doze off after sometime. But I couldn’t get a deep or undisturbed sleep. I kept waking up in between to change my position, drink water and also to help Nobal. Rest of the night was thankfully uneventful. 
Sometime around 4 or 5 Am, while it was still dark, Peter wanted to go up and get our bags as the bees wouldn’t attack while it was dark. I remembered where his bag was and gave him the location. He went and got back 3 bags none of which were mine. He went up once more with Brijesh and they came back with few more bags. Again they weren’t able to spot mine. I was very upset. I couldn’t do anything else. I did not have the stamina to go and get my bag. I wanted to get out of this place as fast as I could. 
Pic taken at the same apple point after the attack.
The rescue team still hadn’t arrived. We wondered what happened to them. We started moving out. Nobal put his hand over Peter’s shoulder and slowly started moving. We were moving very slowly. The shortest route out of the forest was at least 5 km. We had to get out before it became dark again. We couldn’t afford to spend another night in the forest. We kept taking a lot of breaks and finally caught up with the rescue team sometime in the afternoon. Gowri, Arun, Alex and Guru couldn’t find their way in side last night so they started only in the morning. They bought some parottas for us. I immediately gobbled couple of them even though there was nothing to eat them with. We then got bamboos and tied them together and made a stretcher. We put the tarpaulin on top of it made Nobal lie on it. 6 stong fellows took turns in carrying him out while some of us kept clearing the thorns and bushes in the front.
We carried him for a while and then it became tough as there was no trail. We took the wrong route and we had to come back. We were losing precious time.
Nobal being carried in a stretched
We then climbed over a ridge, got into the valley and kept following the stream. We had to do a lot of bouldering as there was no trail. It was a long walk. We then hit a huge waterfall which we had to climb down. While I was climbing down, my leg slipped and I fell. Luckily it was not steep at that point but my shoes got wet. Shoes become useless on boulders if they are wet. I removed the shoes and carried on. I was scared about slipping again. One wrong foot and I would have multiple fractures. We discarded the stretcher as it was no longer required it and kept descending down the waterfall. There was water down the falls, where we filled our bottles and continued walking along the stream. Finally after sometime, we hit a trail that took us out of the forests.
The walk from the base of the hill to the village was easily 8+ km. We kept walking for a long time. Darkness fell on us and we had to get our torches out. Finally we saw a street lamp and after some time saw some houses. At last, everything would soon be over. Sankar, Prem, Sandeep and Arun were waiting for us. Sandeep took his jeep and went to get Nobal who was resting somewhere on the road behind. We went into the local shop and got soda, chips and everything else we could get our hands on.
Once they came back, Arun took Nobal and Peter in his car and they went off to Malar hospital. Sandeep dropped Prem, I and few others in Uthukottai where Prem’s car was parked. I had dinner at Uthukottai and started to Chennai in Prem’s car. I reached home at about 1 AM. I then narrated all my experiences to Mom who was furious at first for losing my mobile and wallet and asked me to stop trekking. I nodded silently. After softening her up, I took a bath, had some butter milk and lied down on my bed. I recalled my experiences and started laughing. I wasn’t able to control myself. I kept laughing for about 15 minutes and told “Mom, I want to go back. I don’t want to stop trekking”. I told myself “No I cannot stop trekking”. I felt very happy that I had a great adventure and a great experience. Within no time, I fell asleep and I had a good deep sleep.
This trek has given enough memories for me to hold on for a life time. What a great adventure it was. It bought out the best in all of us. Everyone helped others in time of need and I really am grateful to this wonderful team of 17. Special thanks to Gowri, Guru, Alex and Arun who were the rescue team who came with Parottas !!
And of course I have to mention – Prem and Sankar tried to reach us on Monday after finishing treks on Sunday. They saw a couple of sloth bears in a dry stream!
So all in all, this trek is one which I would cherish for a lifetime…. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My greatest adventure so far - Part 1

This was my last trek before marriage. I knew that trekking would take the backseat after marriage so I wanted to do one last memorable trek. I wanted to know my extreme limits and push myself as much as I could. Therefore I signed up for Peter’s Nagala east triple loop which had a very interesting agenda and a great trail. Also I hadn’t done a difficult trek so far due to various unfortunate reasons ranging from last minute office assignments to school alumni meets, so I was more than looking forward to this trek. Thankfully no hurdles this time and I was able to go for this trek.
Day 1:
We all assembled at koyambedu. Usual introductions, meeting old buddies, sharing few light moments, tea, I finally got into a car with Karmu, Maya, Aishwarya and Vetri. I hadn’t met any of them before so the onward journey was mostly silent except for some questions like “How many treks have you done before”, “Where are you working” and stuff like that. We finally reached T P kotta, the base camp for Nagala East at around 9 AM.
Common items were distributed and we started trekking towards the magic pool and the sun started beating down already. It is quite a climb to the magic pool and by the time I reached magic pool, I was sweating profusely and was thinking if I should really do the advanced trail.

Into the sliding pool
I thought I’d first take a dip and then decide. The moment I slid into the sliding pool, all instances of tiredness vanished. Sometime later few of us did the highest jump possible into the magic pool and now it was time to move, time to make the decision. Peter called out to the advanced trekkers and I promptly buckled up with no doubts at all. I was on a mission. I had to do the advanced trail. I had already etched that into my mind. There was no looking back.
We followed the stream for some time and started climbing on the left towards the ridge, when Peter told us “Oops, Sorry guys, the last water point was 10 minutes behind. I forgot to tell you as I was very excited”.Hmph !!Fewpoor fellows volunteered to get our bottles refilled.  After that we started climbing, climbing and climbing.

At the top
  We took decent breaks as there were few people who couldn’t keep up with the pace. We had bread with cheese and jam for lunch somewhere in the middle and finally started descending towards the picnic pool. If the ascent was tough, the descent was madness. With lots of loose rocks, nothing to hold on to and tall grass covering the boulders on the way, it really was a marathon task to descend into the picnic pool. Few bruises here and there and we finally got into the picnic pool, much ahead of the basic trail guys… (*Pat on the back*)
Picnic pool
Ahhh ! Good old picnic pool!!! It’s really a treat to be in this after a strenuous climb. After a while Peter got bored and decided “Guys, let’s go to a view point – It’s a 30 minute climb up and 30 minute climb down”. Having known Peter for a while, I was not to be fooled. I took my torch got ready. We started climbing. Again, loose rocks, steep climbs and by the time we reached the top, it was already dark we had a great time at the top sharing few light moments and teasing people (especially the last 2 who were trying to climb up to the view point). The descent to picnic pool was a night mare. ! Pitch dark all around, we had to endure lots of falls, thorns, loose rocks, slippery boulders to reach the picnic pool. We were generously welcomed with nothing. The soup was over and mysteriously 5 packets of soup went missing. After a while, we had maggi and I went to sleep in my usual cozy spot!
Day 2
Woke up early morning took a holy dip and the advanced trekkers soon got ready for the grueling day that was on the cards!
We took the route towards the 50 mtr falls and enroute we met Jack and team who were on their West to East mission! Met some of my old buddies there and we all kept moving along the stream and reached the 50 mtr falls in a while.  Took a dip there as well and continued on our mission. After a while Peter cautioned us to fill our bottles as the stream started getting dry. We filled our bottles and kept moving along the stream which was dry at places. Further along the stream, to our surprise, we saw water flowing and close to that, there was a beautiful pool which was quite deep and oval in shape. Peter was also surprised and said he had never seen this before. It was unexpected. Well, we named the pool as the unexpected pool! Being true CTCians, we immediately dived into the pool and recharged ourselves.

Unexpected pool
After that, we kept continuing along the stream and now the boulders were increasing in size.  We kept boulder hopping for a long time and finally rested for a while and all of us had apples to replenish the lost energy as we had a very steep climb ahead. We then reached the spot where we had to climb steeply to reach the ridge that would take us to the central peak. That was the last time anyone saw me with my glasses and backpack!!!! None of us had any insight as to what lay ahead of us.

The climb was definitely difficult. It was almost vertical. We had to catch hold of cracks in the rock, cling on to roots and trees. At one place, it was difficult to climb with our back packs so we passed on the backpacks to people above us. Few minutes later, I thought I heard someone above asking us to come silently as there were bees. I moved silently for some time and then a while later I asked Peter, where the hive was. He dint know there was one and asked me “what hive”. I kept climbing with Subha and then I saw it. Huge and Black!!! It scared the shit out of me. 

Read part 2 here

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The impossible 170 km ride !

It was June 2012. Cycling had started becoming popular all of a sudden. I was seeing posts and articles in the media and the social networks very frequently on cycling and its benefits. Governments boasted about creating cycling lanes along schools and main roads. It had become a trend to be spotted with a flashy cycle with disc brakes, gears and what not! Suddenly everyone had taken to cycling.
The last time I cycled was during my 12th when I used to ride to school. Cycling was something that I never enjoyed during my school days. I always wanted to be on the fuel powered 2 wheelers than the self-powered ones. I remember creating havoc and throwing a tantrum when my mom told me that she wouldn’t buy me a 2 wheeler to go to tuitions. I hated the cycle!
But now after 7 years, the cycle had reentered my life. On seeing the cycling trend and the extra pounds that I had accrued after school, I started to think if it was the cycle that had kept me in shape during my school days. Now that I had shunned it, I lost the active lifestyle that came with it.
Not wanting to be left out of the trend and the fun that cyclists in my fraternity were having, I too sought to go for a ride. My first ride was to pulicat which is about 60 kms from Chennai. Having nearly died doing that, I wanted to go on the next ride. It was to Thirukazhukundram, a small town on the chengalpet – Mamallapuram road, about 75kms from Chennai.

All set for the ride, I rented an Adidas MTB from a cycle shop near my place and started by 3:30 from my home and reached Tidel park, our assembly point, at 4:00. After checking all our cycles for anything that might cause us to delay, we set off towards sholinganallur where we took a small tea break before taking the left towards the vandalur – kelambakkam road. We then took an off road from the vandalur-kelambakkam road via karanur, othivakkam to reach karumbakkam stopping once to have a sumptuous breakfast of idlis and vadas. It was almost noon and the sun was happily sucking out my energy like they show on the glucon D ads! We stopped at almost every juice shop we could spot and drank whatever we could. I had about 7 glasses of butter milk at a single shop, so I guess you can do the math.

The Team
Finally about 1:30 – 2:00 PM, we reached the temple town of thirukazhukundram where we waited for about half an hour for others to catch up before reaching the bus stand for lunch. Post lunch, few of them who had to reach Chennai before evening started off immediately and few of them who were too tired to continue took a bus back to Chennai. I wanted to take the bus back. I had lost my stamina and my will to continue had come down. It was Peter who asked me not to quit and continue. We then took a small nap in a patch of grass land outside the town and by about 3:30 we started back towards Chennai. 
The nap on the outskirts of thirukazhukundram
By now the sun started to go down and the conditions were starting to get better to cycle. The road that we took had enormous paddy fields on either side and it was just so beautiful that I was thankful for not having taken the bus back to Chennai. We then spotted a huge well and a pumpset which was irrigating the fields. We have the habit of jumping into water whenever possible and the moment we spotted the well, . We jumped into it and had a very refreshing bath which gave us the much need energy to continue on our way back to Chennai. 
Thats me diving into the well
After a couple of hours, few others in our group took a different route which took them directly to guduvancherry and the 7 of us cycled our way towards the OMR. 
The final 7 (7th guy is the one clicking)
We had to take a very deserted off road, through a forest to reach the vandalur-kelambakkam road before it got dark and thankfully all of us made it just in time. Cycling in the vandalur- kelambakkam road was again a pain without the street lights and most of us didn’t have lights fitted on our cycles. To add to it, one of my friend’s cycle got punctured and we had to fix it with light from our mobiles. We surely had to be crazy doing these stuff. By the time we reached sholinganallur, it was 10 PM. We stopped over at Nalas and gobbled up everything that we could. The GPS which we turned on at sholinganallur in the morning now read 140 kms. Having cycled 20 kms to reach sholinganallur, I had completed 160 and I still had another 15 to go before I could reach the comfort of my bed. The thought of having covered over 170 kms in a single day on cycle excited me beyond anything. It was something that I thought impossible. If not for peter’s encouragement, I wouldn’t have achieved this. That night I had a very satisfied and content sleep. The kind of sleep that you get when you have are happy and there is nothing to worry about. I had cycled over 170 kms in a single day. Surely, there could be no problem that couldn’t be solved. 
It was a very important lesson I learnt that night after crossing the 170 km mark. It was to not quit at any point but to die trying. It is something that I have always followed till date and I hope to not quit till I die trying.
How many of you have achieved feats that you previously thought impossible? Do let me know!

Photo Credits - Peter

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My first trek ever!!

My first trek – Nagari

Oct 2010
It was 2 months since I registered with the Chennai Trekking Club and I still hadn’t done a trek. The invites that I received were all for medium / difficult treks and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it. Also, the thought of wandering off in a forest with strangers held me back a bit. It was then I received this invite from Peter. It was an ‘open to all trek’ to the hill ranges of Nagari, AP. This was a trek which was divided into 4 levels – Easy, medium, difficult and extreme. Finally I mustered enough courage to register for this trek.
The trek date came close by and I received the preparatory email. It had instructions as to where we had to assemble, the route to the base camp and things that need to be carried for the trek, apart from other rules and regulations. I started packing my back pack ticking things off the checklist. Couple of hours later, my backpack had in it, a set of clothes, 3 litres of water, spare footwear, sunscreen and other things that seemed essential.
I woke up early on the day of my trek and took a cab to Tidel Park, my assembly point. A while later, my friend, Gokul and I reported to the tidel park lead, paid the expense for the trek and we were all set to go. We boarded the bus which had been arranged to take us to Nagari and off we went.
After reaching the base camp, we had breakfast and started to collect food which we would need for the trek – lemon rice, chapathis, noodles, apples, glucon D and coconut poli. After loading everything in my back pack, I started to think if my backpack had become too heavy.
Things that we took for the trek

We started off on a trail that took us into the mountains. It was a narrow footpath that the locals use to collect wood. The whole terrain was very bushy and the sun started beating down on us. An hour later, we started to ascend and it became increasingly strenuous to climb. I desperately wanted to take a break. Everyone going past me asked me not to stop and keep moving slowly. I couldn’t. My backpack was too heavy and it pulled me back. I rested for a while, had some glucon D and started moving. From there, I started resting every 10 mins. It was then I understood why everyone had asked me not to rest. “You stop once, you’ll keep stopping again and again”-Lesson learnt the harsh way.
Stop once and you will keep stopping again and again !

For a few hours, we continued on the same trail which took us deeper and higher into the Nagari range. The views of the valley below were stupendous and kept me going. By noon, I had lost my stamina completely and I was losing my will to continue. Being in the middle of nowhere and at the mercy of nature, there was nothing much I could do but continue walking. By about 1 PM, we spotted a waterfall where people were taking bath. Phew! At last! I thought we had reached the campsite. The sense of relief that swept through me cannot be explained. The actual campsite was a Shiva temple above the waterfall. After the last climb, I could finally hear laughter, talk and glee. We had reached the camp site at last. ! Wait a minute - was this supposed to be the first level that Peter had mentioned as easy in his email? Damn! My body had become numb with pain. I quickly undressed and got into the pool and boy!! It was very refreshing. The cold running water was just what I wanted after such an ordeal. Being a non-swimmer, I couldn’t do much but just stand in the small puddle of shallow water.
The water that we had to cross to get to the 2nd campsite

Post lunch, I was not in a mood to continue and thought of spending the night in the first camp. Gokul though coerced me into continuing and I agreed reluctantly. I then heard the organizers call out for trekkers who wanted to move on and we buckled up. We were supposed to be climbing over a waterfall and follow the stream. What? It looked dangerous but nevertheless adventurous. The point where we crossed the water fall was very slippery and one wrong foot would have left me dead or worse, paralyzed. We then started climbing on boulders along the stream which were becoming increasingly huge and I was continuously gasping for breath. I started to lose my temper at my inability to keep up with the group. Out there, if you don’t keep moving you would be left behind or worse get lost in the middle of the forest. We then reached a fork where the ones who were leading the group didn’t know which route to take. One of the organizers thought it was a brilliant idea to climb on the left and went ahead.  We started following him but the left just didn’t seem right. About half an hour later, there didn’t seem to be any way forward. We were all scathed by the thorns, rocks and it was then we heard someone shout from below saying that it was the wrong route and asked us to come back. Damn! I was furious. I was on the verge of losing it. We then came back and took the right that we were supposed to. It was a long climb again. The climb was so hard that the organizer had to give me electoral to reenergize. I asked him “Do you think I can make it up to level 3” to which he replied “Go up to level 2, and then decide. Don’t ask your body, ask your mind how it feels”. Around 3 or 4 in the evening, we reached campsite 2. I asked my mind and my body and both of them strongly advised me to stay put and not move any further. After a brief respite, everyone got ready to move. I desperately tried to discourage everyone from moving on but in vain. Gokul asked me to come along as there was no water in this campsite and we would have to drain our drinking water supply to even cook. Swearing not to ever trek again, I moved on towards the 3rd campsite. 
@ the 2nd campsite
The trail towards campsite 3 was surprisingly very easy. It was a very gradual ascend. A short while later, people were queuing up and not moving. Ah! We had lost our way again. The organizers in front didn’t know which way to go and few of them split up to find the way to the 3rd camp site. It started getting dark and we all just sat wherever we had space to place our bum and started chatting and discussing about the eventful day that we all had. Half an hour later, one guy had found the trail to the campsite and off we went! By the time we reached the campsite, it was pitch dark. All of us got into action. There was water to be fetched, tents to be put up, fire to be lit and so on. Finally we got the soup boiling and it was over in no time.  Finally, Gokul and I got a corner to sleep and within seconds I dozed off.

The next day we woke up to find a bunch of guys along with Peter getting tea ready.They had spent the night in campsite 2 and came over in the morning. The place where we had camped was a small flat space on the ridge. The view around was just mind blowing. It took a while for the feeling to sink in. I was just staring around in awe. It felt so fresh to breathe such pure air.
This is what we woke up to !!!

Peter then called out for people who were willing to go up to the peak. This time, I was ready to move on. The previous day’s frustration, tiredness had all vanished overnight. Gokul held me back. He told me that we had to return back and if we were to lose energy going up, we would have a very difficult time getting down. Fair enough, I thought and all of us stayed put for some more time at campsite 3, had breakfast and then started our way down. The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful and by about 6 PM we made our exit and came to the village. Gokul and I went to a nearby bar in the village and drowned a couple of beers and fell asleep. Couple of hours later, everyone had come back and we got into the bus and started off to Chennai. It was amazing how people were still so cheerful and enthusiastic on the way back with no signs of tiredness at all! All I wanted to do was just go and sleep for a day.
The next day morning, my muscles ached, I just wasn’t able to get up and getting to office seemed as difficult as the trek. But through all the pain, there was a sense of happiness, a sense of satisfaction, a sense of achievement. It was then I sent a message to Gokul – “I have the feeling of having conquered something. It feels great.” He immediately called back and acknowledged that he too had the same feeling. That was probably when I decided I would continue trekking.
Looking back at the first trek, 2 years and 25+ treks later, getting lost was probably the best thing that happened during that trek. It made the trek much more memorable. Another lesson I learnt from the trek – spare underwear, shorts, footwear, sunscreen are not required and only add weight to your backpack and if possible use others bowls and spoons rather than bringing your own.

Have you guys had any such interesting stuff in your life? Do share!