Monday, June 15, 2015

10 things every backpacker needs to know before going to Thailand!!!

  1. You are better off carrying USD than INR. Only few exchanges accept INR and you will get a good deal if you exchange USD.  It works out profitable when you change INR -> USD -> THB rather than INR -> THB. 
  2. There are a lot exotic and beautiful places to visit in Thailand. Dont limit your trip to Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. Plan your trip to coincide with the full moon party. Its crazy!    
  3. Stay in hostels and dorms. These are the best ways to connect with a lot of travellers and also save money. Look for a hostel that has got excellent reviews in hostelworld or booking. Costlier hostels do not necessarily mean they are good. 
  4. A Thai Bhat is equivalent to 2 Rupees. That doesn’t mean you will get a meal for 25 THB. Food is expensive in Thailand. More so if you are a vegetarian. You will definitely have to shell out at least 100THB for a meal. A bag of laundry costs 50 THB. A loaf of bread costs 45 THB. Deal with it. No point in cribbing about it.  
  5. None of the restaurants or hostels provide drinking water. You have to carry your own water everywhere and a 1.5 litre bottle costs 15 – 20 THB
  6. Most probably, you would be taking an Air Asia flight to Bangkok which will take you to the Don Mueang airport. It is best to take the Bus to Mo – Chit station from the airport and  then take the BTS from there. If you are arriving in the wee hours, a taxi is your best bet. 
  7. Dont travel with a fixed plan in mind. Chances are very high that you will love a place and might want to extend your stay. Be flexible. 
  8. Carry about 2000 THB per person in hand or exchange at the airport. You will need money for your visa and for the taxi / bus. You don’t want to end up convincing the driver to accept Indian currency like I did. 
  9. Most of the Thais don’t know English. If you want vegetarian food in a restaurant please specify No Meat and No Egg. Apparently egg is vegetarian in Thailand. 
  10. The local beer Chang gives you a “Changover”. Alcohol % varies from 5 to 30 with each bottle. It however tastes great. Be careful before you start downing beers like you do with KF. 
Happy Travels. ! Let me know your thoughts as well from your trip to Thailand ! 

PS: A tuk tuk has more leg space than the Air Asia flight. However, they can rip you off as well if you are not careful enough. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kuari Pass - My first Himalayan Trek

"The Mountains are the best medicine for an egoistic human. Once a man comes to the mountains, he has no choice but to surrender and let go of his ego"

Kuari Pass - My first himalayan trek

The months leading to the trek – The Preparation :
It all started when I saw a five week gap between the April and May release in my client’s release calendar. Having cancelled my Kedarkanth trip owing to an accident, I had an IndiaHikes voucher and suddenly a trek to the Himalayas seemed a lot more realistic.
The next step was to get my leaves approved in office. I decided that I would take 7 days leave in total and approached my manager telling him about my plans. He looked at the calendar few times to make sure that there was nothing in between and immediately agreed on the condition that I give a proper handover and make a checklist of things to be done while I was gone.
It was then that my friend Gopal walked in and I told him about my plans and casually asked him if he wanted to come. He immediately agreed to it and seemed very excited about it. There arose the problem. I was not sure if both of us could get our leaves approved. We immediately spoke to our manager about it and he seemed quite apprehensive about it but nevertheless wanted to help us. He asked us to send an email detailing our plan and I sent that out immediately. Finally in the evening, I came to know that both our leaves were approved and we were good to go.
We booked our tickets from Chennai to Delhi to Haridwar and reserved our spot on the Bagini glacier exploratory trek which was supposed to begin on 26th of April.
We drew a checklist of items that we had, that could be sourced from others and the ones that had to be brought and a week prior to the trek, we were all set and ready to go.

On the Wednesday before the trek, we received a mail from IndiaHikes saying the Bagini trek had been called off due to some local issue with the villagers and that we would have to do the Kuari pass instead. All of us took it in our stride and did not let it dampen our spirits.
Gopal and I took the 5 PM flight from Chennai to Delhi and took the 11:30 PM train from Delhi to reach Haridwar where we met Mansi our first friend on the trek.

Day 1 –
After a brief visit to Har Ki Pauri ghat in haridwar, we assembled at the Haridwar station at 6 AM where all of us got introduced to each other. The 18 of us got into 3 separate Sumos and off we started towards Chepna which was about 260 kms away.
I slept happily for the first few hours waking up only to have breakfast at Byasi. We continued to motor our way passing through 4 different prayags . Prayags are places where 2 rivers join. The first one called the Devprayag is where the Alaknanda and bagirathi join and from there on it goes by the famous name Ganga. The subsequent prayags are Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag and Nandaprayag where the Alaknanda is joined by Mandakini, Pindari and Nandakini respectively. The raasthe (hindi word I learnt for route) though being rich in history was made boring and strenuous by the continuous holes and bumps. Not to mention the old hindi songs that kept going on the music system. After a very long 8 hours travel through the prayags stopping enroute for lunch and chai, we finally arrived at Chepna (20 kms from Ghat) where we could spot the first camp site that was ready for us. The sight of the yellow tents against the green and brown background of the mountains bought into us a sense of initialization. At last, our trek had started.
We assembled around our tents where Ravinder, our trek leader, addressed us and instructed us on what we should expect for the next few days and how we should be absolutely disciplined, punctual and not have any timepass talk with the guides or him. It was all too formal and strict for me. All my earlier treks were totally chilled out and we never had any such instructions. I thought this was going to be like some military camp and he was going to be the strict officer. Thankfully he turned out to be a chilled out guy later on! It was probably protocol to sound strict on the first day just like all teachers do on the first day of school. Once the briefing was done, we retired to our tents and dozed away.

Day 2 –

First camp site seen in the background
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning and after finishing our morning rituals we assembled for breakfast at 7 and started our trek. We walked through a fairly wide path that took us from 1500 metres to 2900 metres through the villages of Ghoni and Ramani. It was a very tiresome climb and I found myself out of juice halfway through the climb.

The clear views of Mt. Trishul kept me distracted from the treacherous climb. I finally reached the campsite at Fuda at about 2:30 in the afternoon which was a big expanse of grassland amidst fern topped trees. The scorching sun and the pangs of hunger triggered my migraine and I slept through the rest of the afternoon in my tent. We went to the ridge nearby in the evening for 270 degree views of the snowcapped massifs and saw the sun sink behind the mountains. We spent the rest of the day talking away and post dinner went early to bed.

2nd Campsite:

Day 3 –
This was a day of steep descents. From our campsite at Fuda, we initially climbed steeply to 3100 metre which was the highest point for the day and started descending. It was a very monotonous descent through a forest and even though the trail was wide and marked, the loose stones and even stones demanded our full concentration.

We reached a small water fall halfway down the descent and I wasted no time in getting myself a bath. The brain freezing bath was so refreshing and rejuvenating that all tiredness vanished the instant I put my head under the waterfall. We continued our descent and by the time we reached our camp site put up in a village called Jhinji Pani, it was almost 3 PM and to our dismay we found that the campsite was put up in a ground which was probably used by the mules for their pooping business. It was a very mediocre campsite with absolutely no views of the mountains or valleys whatsoever. The saving grace for the day was the limited views of Beether Toli, Neelkant and Chaukamba peaks on the way and of course the tang that I served everyone as soon as they arrived at the camp site. I don’t remember another instance when I was thanked so much.

We spent the evening playing Dumb C with movie titles. A must mention is Mayuresh’s acting of Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Limited. We weren’t able to light a very big camp fire that night so all of us retired early.

3rd Campsite:

Day 4 –
Owning to the steep descent the previous day, few more backpacks found their way to the back of the mules. We continued the descent from where we left the previous day to the base of the hill where we could hear the Jhinji River roaring down the valley. The force was such that it threatened to sweep away anything that came in contact with it. As soon as I saw the hanging bridge which we were supposed to use to cross the river, I jumped in excitement. It had been on my wish list for so long to walk across a river on a hanging bridge.

The best way to enjoy the experience on a hanging bridge as I found is to sit on the edge of the bridge, hold the rails and put your legs down facing the river and sway along with the bridge. We then started our climb. Having descended so much, we had to climb an equal amount and it was starting to get very tough around midday. We halted at another beautiful waterfall to have lunch. The gentle water falling from a height of about 15 metres was the best shower anyone could get. After having a quick bath and yummy lunch, we set out, ascending again. An hour later when I was almost tired and exhausted, there was a flurry of excitement among the trekkers who were in front of me. They had spotted the campsite. Where I asked frantically? They pointed in the air and said there. As my moved my eyes in the direction they pointed, I saw the yellow camps perched high up on the mountain. Why the fuck did the campsite have to be that high.

The yellow dot just below the saddle was where the campsite was put up
Coming back to terms with reality, I started climbing slowly and steadily towards the campsite. Every time I looked up, the camp site looked back mockingly and it looked farther each time. Finally I reached the campsite at about 2:45 PM. The views of Beeter Toli from the camp site were nothing short of magnificient. We spent the next few hours playing A R Rahman songs which perfectly blended with the mood we were in and started with our signature Dumb Charades.

4th Campsite:

Day 5:
The previous night, I found it very hard to sleep. I kept having nightmares and woke up often. Every time I woke up, I was sweating badly and feeling very thirsty. Later in the morning Ravi explained this condition as sleep hypoxia, a condition where the breathing rate goes down and then comes back to normal. That explained the sweat and the thirst! We then started walking along the ridge of the mountain where the trail was very gradual along beautiful meadows. After a while we reached a point from where we could see a beautiful water fall in the valley below. The trail to the waterfall was literally non-existent due to a very recent landslide. The challenging descent was the highlight of the day. Once we reached the valley and looked up, we couldn’t believe that we had come down this way.

The most adventurous descent of the trek

After spending a while at the falls, we continued to ascend for an hour before we had lunch. The delicious maggi for lunch and the power nap helped me recharge and I covered the rest of the ascent pretty quickly. The camp site for the day was Lower Dhakvani from where we would attempt the kuari pass the next day. Evening flew in a jiffy as we sat around the campfire, roasting almonds and playing dumb charades. Only this time we enacted brands ranging from Ferrari to north indian masala brands which I cannot recall. That night, sleep hypoxia played spoil sport again and the next morning I woke up a bit grumpy.

Campfire roasted almonds !
5th Campsite:

Day 6 – Kuari pass –
Day 6 of our trek was supposed to be the most important day. For this day, we had travelled over 40 kms over treacherous terrains. We were to cross over Kuari pass – the mission of our trek.
I started ascending towards the pass pacing myself slowly. It was one of the longest and steepest ascents of our trek. At first I was at the back of the group, walking slowly but never stopping in between. Determined not to stop, I kept walking while others took a break.

Kuari pass is the saddle seen in the pic
Finally towards the end of the ascent I was just behind Kunal and Gopal who had already reached the pass and were shouting in glee. Their faces irradiated a degree of happiness that I had not seen before. It was as though they had seen something very beautiful and enlightening. Not wanting to waste even a single moment, I started running and once I reached the pass, I wasn’t able to catch breadth. It had probably stopped. The entire world froze before me. My heart might have skipped a beat. Hell, it might have skipped a dozen. The beauty of the snowcapped mountains and the valley below was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever seen. It was so intimidating that I surrendered before its might. At that point, nothing ever mattered to me. All that I had achieved so far seemed very small. At that point, I just sat down and wrote 

“The Mountains are the best medicine for an egoistic human. Once a man comes to the mountains, he has no choice but to surrender and let go of his ego”

Even more wonderful was to see the faces of my friends who were reaching the pass. Chinmayi, the most expressive among us, was all tears. Once the feeling sunk in and it was time to move, the guides briefed us on how to tread in the snow. I was very excited about walking in the snow but I soon found out that it was very difficult and a pain in the ass - literally given the number of times I fell down. We crossed the pass and had lunch at a dry spot. Post lunch, we had lots of fun sliding on the snow and descended down to our next campsite at Kulara. The campsite offered stunning views of the majestic Drunagiri peak. As we sat around the campfire, it suddenly started drizzling heavily and there was a heavy breeze which forced us to stay inside our tents. We then had a quick dinner and retired early. That night I slept well. I had probably acclimatized to the altitude.

6th Campsite:

Day 7 –
The last day of our trek was pretty laid back and we walked slowly along the ridge to reach Auli. The walk on the ridge was along a narrow trail. The mountain side was so steep that if we stepped out of the path, we would land directly in the valley 200 metres below. Gopal and Mansi, who were acrophobic, were having a tough time as they were walking slowly and others had a good time watching them.

Post lunch, the weather seemed to turn tides. It started drizzling now and then and the sky behind us looked black and threatening. We could see bits and pieces of the beautiful Nanda Devi but the clouds were still blocking most of her. We hoped we would be able to see it before we completed the trek.
Finally by late afternoon, when we had almost reached Auli, the clouds drifted apart and the gorgeous Nanda Devi appeared before us. It was as though she decided that we deserved this gift for the days of toil that we had put in. Words and pictures are not enough to describe her.

The magnificent Nanda Devi as seen from Auli
And we finally descended to Auli where we checked in to a small hotel. Post a quick hot water bath, we had beer and dinner and finally slept off. It was difficult to imagine that it was the last night of our trek. And even more difficult was to imagine the journey to Haridwar ahead of us.

Day 8 – Farewell
The long drive back to Haridwar was more enjoyable this time now that we had bonded a lot over the past 6 days. Gopal and I planned to get down at Rishikesh as we had plans to do bungee jumping and river rafting before heading back to Delhi. As we neared Rishikesh, we found it very difficult to imagine that we were going to part ways. When we got down at Rishikesh, all our trek mates hugged us and bid us farewell. To me that was a very emotional moment. It was as though I was bidding farewell to my family. It was a lifetime bond that got sealed at the Kuari pass trek. Finally we parted ways after discussing about how to share our photos and experiences.

Day 9Go, Let Go, Jump! Read about my first bungee experience here.

This is my experience from my first himalayan trek. Am sure you must have had a mind blowing experience as well. Do share !

Photo credits -- Few pics are sourced from others members of this trek. Thanks guys ! 

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