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…. 


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