Monday, 17 March 2014

Weekend at North Pennines

After nearly a year of sincere attempts to join the London Adventure Group in their adventure trips, I finally made it to North Pennines during the weekend of 14-16 March 2014.

North Pennines has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is a European and global geopark. We reached YHA Dufton from Cockfosters late night on 14th March 2014. YHA Dufton in village green is a large house with great bedrooms that sleeps 2-6 people with all linen provided, hot showers, a self catering kitchen and a lounge with fireplace. A comfortable, neat and cool place for rest and recreation after a day-long hiking affair.

Saturday's walk lasted over 7 hours covering an 18 km stretch, leaving from the hostel, up the Pennine Way, climbing slowly to the 'High Cup Nick', which was our lunch stopover point. 'Gone with the wind' would be an understatement to describe the strong winds. It was quite freezing, so much so that even peeling an orange for lunch or biting into an apple was too much of a bother!  Despite hiking socks, gloves and three layers of clothing, numbness of fingers and toes stubbornly refused to go way in a haste.

Looking back - down the path to Dufton!

The Hike to High Cup Nick!
A Stream - On the way to High Cup Nick

High Cup Nick
After lunch we were on on the route down to the Eden Valley via Middletongue Crag. It was a visual delight all around, a glorious sight. The strong winds made the route down a bit of a challenge but it was exciting to stick to the boulders and rocks on the way down. Weather was quite foggy and hence we couldn't spot any of the Lake District peaks. Upon losing height the route back to the accomodation was via a forest and the woodland trust valley of Dufton Ghyll.

Eden Valley
High Cup Nick leading onto the Eden Valley
We returned to the hostel at 17:30 with pleasantly sore muscles, empty stomachs rumbling for food and completely soiled boots. Immediately after a round of steaming hot tea and an equally hot shower, we got ready to gather at the lovely country pub for the obvious, dinner and socialising!

On Sunday we drove about 14 miles to Little Salkeld to start our 8 km walk. We walked along the River Eden, passed through lacy's Caves. We left the river at Daleraven Bridge and headed south back to Little Salkeld pasing, a lovely stone circle known as Long Meg and her daughter.

River Eden

Lacy's Caves
Long Meg
Upon our return, we took off in our cars and mini vans headed to Cockfosters, with a couple of breaks at service stations. A weekend well-spent; bonding with nature and nature-lovers!!!

The Bunch of Nature-lovers - they certainly are one of a kind!

*Photo Credits - sources aplenty*

Thursday, 2 January 2014

UK's Three Peak Challenge - Jun 2013

There was Ben Nevis and Snowdon, but no Scafall. Why not? Read on, you will understand why not while also living through our hiking experience in England and the fun we had!
Six of us – Julia (leader of the pack), Kirill (calmest of the pack, a born survivor), Cathy (ever the sport!), Ryan Kruger (director of the pack), Jwo Ru (cheetah of the pack!) and myself (hmmmm…..left to the reader to form an opinion J), met at the bus stop at Baker Street to board a bus to London Luton.

Our adventure started even before the hiking commenced – our flight was delayed by 2 hours! Since 7 am at the bus stop was a massive effort for most of us, we were all curled up on the seats right before the departure gates.
Venkat (the most daring of the pack), for he kept awake through the previous night to take an early flight to Inverness, reaching four hours earlier than us and almost believing that we were playing a prank on him – he had just begun to grow leaves when we collected him from the airport!
With our rental car, we set out to stock food and fill our stomachs with carbohydrates to prepare us for the first stage of hiking – Ben Nevis, Scotland. Ben Nevis was gorgeous to say the least – sunshine as we started our ascent, lush greenery all around, small puddles of water everywhere, rains throughout the hike, a small waterfall half way through and a stunning snow-capped peak. The trail was quite straight forward. However, finishing the round-trip in 6 hours pushed our physical boundaries.
I’ve done more challenging trails during my hiking experiences with ‘Chennai Trekking Club’ however my clear lack of stamina was evident from the way I was breathing hard. Julia was the one merrily giving us stories to keep the spirits up particularly when muscles unknown to us were screaming for relief. Ryan kept pace with her while Jwo Ru effortlessly marched along. Finally at the peak of Ben Nevis, all seven of us – happy to have made it through the snow!!!

It was amusing to note that while I was struggling through the ascent of Ben Nevis, I was leading the team during our descent, more like a possessed soul! Even Ryan mentioned this as something he wouldn’t forget about the hike. This madness was the result of feeling extremely ashamed with myself for allowing my once-admired stamina deteriorate in a matter of months.
Ryan, Kirill and Venkat alternated as drivers – a commendable effort! Ben Nevis took us 6 hours including a 15 minute break. A diversion on the highway took 2 hours off us, which is when we decided to alter the plan, albeit just a bit. We decided to make it a comfortable 2 peak conquest in 24 hours rather than the 3 peak challenge. We unanimously decided it was Snowdon at Wales. Venkat and I decided to take it easy and we stayed back. While Kirill & Cathy made it up to 80% of the peak, it was Ryan, Julia and Jwo Ru who made it to Snowdon’s peak. The surprise cake-cutting for Julia’s birthday happened mid-way to Snowdon’s peak – all smiles!

Well, it was certainly a refreshing and an exhilarating trip that gave us major insights into the planning and training required for such a challenge. We are ready to take on the 3 peak challenge sometime soon and look forward to the same :)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Treasure Hunt II

                                                               Treasure Hunt II 

Last year, I had barely managed to finish a couple of moderate treks when I saw the invite for TH. Though I was fascinated by the idea of a treasure hunt, especially on a trek, I did not have enough courage to push myself to join any team. My philosophy is quite straightforward – I’ve never wanted to be viewed as a burden. The least I could do for the team is to take care of myself and ensure that I do not come in the way of other’s fun and happiness – either by being slow or by getting injured! So, in view of social welfare, I stayed out of it!

Imagine my thrill on receiving the invite for TH2? However I was soon dismayed to find out that it was scheduled for the weekend after PX6. Having booked my tickets and being one of the confirmed participants for PX6 right from the beginning, despite stringent and innovative methods of shortlisting, it meant that I had to miss TH2 as I can’t take leave on consecutive weekends (I work 6 days a week).

My participation in TH2 – should I say it was an act of fate? Or, to those who do not believe in destiny, should I say it was a mere coincidence? Either way, what actually happened was that I had to drop out of PX6 (which, by the way, was an utter disappointment) due to some unavoidable circumstance and hence could transfer my leave for TH2. I learnt that from every disappointment stems an adventure.

Nachiketa & Mani asked me to join their team – the Maverick Meerkats! And so I did. It was a strong team with mostly seasoned trekkers (except me) – Mani, Nachi, Raj Jacob, Ela, Rajesh, Arun Sekhar, Vipin Lal and few others. The irony was that the guys who initiated and formed the team – Nachi & Mani, amongst few others had to drop out due to some pressing commitments/injury. A team that initially had a member base of 11, had to manage with only 7 . We were faced with the uncertainty of further dropouts leading to disqualification of the team on the grounds of minimum size till the last minute – what with Arun wanting to go to Rat Tail Falls and charming Ela and Vipin to follow suit?!

Finally, we set off at 4.30 a.m, a 7-member team comprising Rajesh, Praveen, Samim & myself from Anna Nagar, in Praveen’s car. Ela waited for Arun who was  to be picked up on his bike at Nathan’s Café in Koyembedu. Arun did not pick up our wake up calls which indeed gave us peptic ulcers but finally he managed to turn up at TP Kota (a few minutes ahead of us, advantage: bike ride), where the teams were to receive the instructions for the Hunt.

There were 5 teams lead by Prem, Arun Prabahar, Alex, Arun/Vipin & Brijesh respectively. The rules were quite clear – each team would be given a clue to start with apart from which there would be three more clues to be unearthed to reach the treasure (treasure was to be collected from Peter at a specific location and the third clue of every team would direct the members to Peter). Subsequent to finding each clue a photo of the team members (except the one capturing the snap) with the clue was to be taken. The treasure could be collected from Peter only upon producing these photos as well as all the clues.

Maverick Meerkats set out to take up the challenge. First clue was picked up by me and it had the coordinates (N 13, 30’, 53”; E 79, 49’, 20”) and read “Come and stand below me. Feel the liquid of life dripping down.” We plotted the coordinates on the map as well as on the GPS and realised it was a little above the dead end pool. Having started the mission at 7.00 a.m, we reached the first pool at around 8.10 a.m. We had a stopover for breakfast and the organizer team with Peter and Nobal joined us. Bread with peanut butter, cheese spread and nutella was the menu. We were just wrapping up when Prem’s team came running towards us – they had already located their first clue! This piece of news did nothing to get us anxious. Our attitude was as cool as ever. We set out to complete the hunt to get to the treasure and that remained our main focus. We proceeded to the dead end pool, ferried our bags across and crossed the pool to the other side. The location of our first clue required that we climb above the dead end pool, so instead of going straight towards the picnic pool, we had to take a diversion to the right after the dead end pool. The climb was quite tricky and steep. There was hardly a trail and we found ourselves hugging and whispering loving words to big boulders that was our pillar of support. There was hardly any place for our footing and it was almost always on delicate equilibrium that we thrived! The beauty ofthis part of Nagala  amazed me. Nagala East has more water bodies than the West. I was told by the navigators – Arun & Vipin that we had just crossed the seven obstacles pool to get to the exact spot of our clue. There was a miniscule fall from above, standing under which, we could feel the liquid of life – ‘water’ dripping down our sweat drenched body. Gorgeous place, bright and lively green bushes all around with controlled trickles of water falling down and fast ,  disappearing under the damp, slushy ground – I was riveted to the spot admiring the beauty that beheld my eyes. We had found the location, but what we could not find was the clue. We searched for over 10 to 15 minutes and finally Rajesh found it stuffed into a crevice on an adjacent rock. Shouts of ecstasy followed the cracking of our first clue. Joyous, smiling faces captured on the first snap! Arun, the team’s photographer, captured the euphoric moment – picture perfect, it was!

We retraced through the seven obstacles stream back to the fork of diversion after the dead end pool and resumed our journey towards the picnic pool. 

Why picnic pool? Because, our second clue said – “I stand high and tall. Overlooking the picnic pool, with the central peak towards my right” (coordinates: N 13, 31’, 20”; E 79, 48’, 17”)! It was a no-brainer to decipher this one – obviously it was a rock/ridge of some sort standing tall and towering over the picnic pool. Initially our plan was to find the second clue and then take the lunch break. However, upon reaching picnic pool at around 12.00 noon, we decided against our original plan and settled down for lunch. The decision was aided by the fact that the climb above picnic pool towards our second clue was going to be tough in the absence of a trail, especially under the blazing heat of the sun, for which we needed an additional boost of energy. Chapathi and tomato pickle beckoned us. Peter and Nobal were there as well, resting and watching the fun. When we were about to leave, Peter specifically asked us to take a dip in the pool as he said the climb above is going to be tough given the May-heat. Diligently each one of us took a dip and moved on. The beginning of the climb was a bit tricky but then after few minutes we reached a valley, right above the picnic pool. The GPS recordings indicated that we had a climb of around 150m to reach the ridge. It was the first time that I started using a wet towel on my head, upon coaxing by my dear team mates. The wet towel on my head was a welcome relief from the scorching sunlight. Surprisingly, with the towel on my head, my hair didn’t come onto my face while climbing. The climb was mostly at a steep gradient with huge boulders which scalded the skin even when used as a grip for a few seconds and the absence of shade from trees did not help much. We paused after the first 40 minutes of the climb. Arun and Vipin went ahead with Ela to check out the ridge. As I was catching my breath, I heard cries of thrill, jolting me back to reality. Praveen and I ran to the source of the noise and called out to Ela. They all confirmed our suspicion of having unravelled the second clue. The ridge stood out from all others and to the right was the central peak. Climbing onto the ridge was a bit complex, as one step amiss and the taste of free fall w ould become a reality. Again, I stood mesmerized by the mind-blowing exquisiteness of the scenery encompassing me. I was so glad to have been on TH2 that gave me  glimpses into the unseen loveliness of Nagala. I have been to Nagala around 8 times and thought I’d seen most parts of it. Though I meant to always come back to Nagala for more, I never imagined that the unseen peaks and valleys of Nagala would still intrigue me with incredible intensity. 6 of us got onto the ridge and I realised the photographer had taken leave to a boulder at a lower level beside the mighty ridge where we were all perched for a snap. Enchantment and pride, yet again did its round on our minds, reflecting with ease on our faces. Arun captured this moment with the finesse of a professional!

Expression on our face changed the instant our eyes grasped the third clue along with its coordinates (N 13, 29’, 06”; E 79, 47’, 10”) – “Near by the lonely tree, unable to breathe”! I just freaked out when I heard the location of this clue. It was somewhere close to the south eastern stream and a solid 4 to 5 hours away from where we stood – horror rooting us firmly to the ground! We had hoped to solve the third clue before camping on Saturday night. All hopes suddenly gone with the wind, we just stared at each other for a few minutes unable to make up our minds on what next. Finally, the navigators – Arun & Vipin along with Rajesh said that we should first go down and subsequently decide on the future course of action. A two and a half hour ascent became a one and a half hour descent – away from the picnic pool, towards the central peak!

At many instances during the trek two things struck me – I was mentally geared up to go through a moderate/moderate+ trek, but as we were swept into the meandering spin of TH2 it swiftly turned out to be a difficult one and the stamina that I possessed during PX5 seemed to have completely deserted me. When I voiced both these thoughts, I understood I wasn’t alone in pondering over them. Rajesh also said he felt his speed of PX6 has obviously deserted him given his current pace. Then again, the whole thing could be nailed down to the  “heat” of early May.

Following the eastern pool, we kept moving towards the base of the central peak. It was already 5.30 p.m and lot of deliberations on when and where to camp took place, without any clarity. Finally at 5.50 p.m we decided to camp where we were, beside a couple of thatched roofs as further progress would mean trekking post dusk and camping after two hours. Vipin was the catalyst in this decision as he was clearly not upto night trekking. Plus, our chilled out team’s main focus was completing the hunt and enjoying the whole experience of team spirit and landscape rather than getting anxious about the timing.

Once at the campsite beside water, we settled down and stretched our worn out limbs, the moans of pleasure echoing through the surrounding dusky ambience. Succour to the body emboldened the mind which commenced an analysis of the situation, teams and possible timelines. We had concluded that Prem’s team would have finished the hunt (at 6.30 p.m) and that the other emperor’s team would also be faced with a similar fate. We fervently hoped the other teams would give us company the next day. The comforting thought was Peter’s revelation that difficulty level was equal across clues and teams.

After rest to body, the stomach expressed its protest vehemently at being ignored for over 6 hours. Dinner, or the lack of it, gave us a sinking feeling. Why? We wanted to capitalize on the magnanimity of other teams, by borrowing their pot for cooking our dinner. Not for one moment did we consider the chances of not camping with other teams. Nevertheless, necessity is the mother of invention. We used whatever we had, to manage dinner, though not a sumptuous meal (that would have been a welcome relief to our growling stomach), a decent one, enough to stop our stomach from making rumbling sounds. Thanks to Ela for his apple pie! Sleep claimed us within the few minutes of stretching out on our mats. I woke up through the night to admire the silver of the moonlight washing everything under its expanse with mysterious, yet spectacular shadows. Such admiration, despite sleep’s attempt at drowning my senses was only possible due to the magnificence of the sight that embraced me!

Samim was always ready for exploration and assisted Arun & Vipin in navigation at all palces. Praveen was a constant pillar of strength! Ela and Rajesh were forever, either ahead/behind me patiently listening to and letting me babble (which is a regular occurrence, especially during a difficult trek) – much needed moral support!

Maverick Merrkat’s navigator cum human alarm, Arun, woke us up at 6.30 a.m and we started our journey at 7.05 a.m in search of the third clue. We climbed up towards the central peak water point and reached Peter’s team at 8.30 a.m. There we got wind of the state of affairs of all other teams – Prem’s team had found their treasure at 11.30 p.m., Brijesh’s team was just collecting their treasure, Arun Prabahar’s team was at clue three and the other team was at clue two. So, Peter said we stood a good chance of coming third if we left immediately and that it would take around 40 minutes from the water point. Feeling a renewed surge of energy, we ran in search of clue three. Peter mentioned that we had to walk along the grassland and that there would be waterfalls at the spot. However, ‘along the grassland’ was forgotten and ‘waterfalls’ remained ingrained in our minds. At an inflexion point, we had two options – walk along the grasslands or go down to check out the waterfalls. Our decision was to check out the waterfalls. There was no trail, unmanageable number of thorny bushes, entwined roots and branches of shrubs which took away almost two hours of our time. We came back to the inflexion point absolutely dejected and demotivated. In fact, at 11.25 a.m we were tempted to give up and retrace to the coordinates of Peter & Co. Five minutes of rest and reflection reiterated the purpose of our participation in treasure hunt – completion! We decided to rise above all odds to locate the third and final clue (since we already knew the location of the coordinates N 13, 29’, 35”; E 79, 47’, 40” of the third clue– Peter’s Den). Within 20 minutes of the decision, we had found the spot where the clue lay inside a small pool of water, unable to breath, beneath a lonely tree, thanks to Vipin & Rajesh! The grandeur of the find electrified our souls – “I rise from the ocean, I fall from the sky, I flow inbetween”! As usual Arun was perched on a boulder, overlooking the spot of the clue, ready to click the victory picture. At 11.45 a.m we were done finding all our clues, taking a break for a few minutes, we started our march to collect the treasure. We met a couple of teams on the way and heard that Peter was wrapping up and getting ready to leave. So we ran, and reached the water point in 20 minutes. We became the fourth team to have completed the hunt. But, the number did not matter. All that mattered was that we completed the hunt! And what a treasure it was – box of chocolates; certainly the best of the lot! Not having had breakfast/lunch, the chocolates just disappeared in no time! “Cheese” – the proud moment was captured and framed forever by Durai & Peter – seven of us with all the clues; hungry, yet beaming, satisfied and blissful faces.

We retraced with Peter, Nobal and other participants. Had a half hour pause at a pool near the exit point which definitely had a cooling effect on us, picking mangoes from trees and treating our taste buds to age-old combination of mango with salt.

Many times through the hunt, we were discussing the efficiency of planning and execution of the whole event in awe and reverence, a meticulous effort by the organizing team. The clues were intriguing and kept our anticipation at a constant high. Finally what stood out was the fairness of the clues. Each team had to go through equal rigor to get to the treasure.

They say the spirit behind any competition is participation, more than winning. Each team proved its spirit by being there, going all over Nagala and beating the heat – never mind the result!

With such a lovely team, a fulfilling experience and unimaginable levels of fun, I was bathed in ineffaceable elation!

P.S: If you want to be part of such an amazing/incredible/fun-loving/exhilarating group, visit 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Palani Exploration 1 (PX1) Repeat

It has been a little over 90 days since my last trek. I guess lack of trekking for so many days resulted in my low morale, making me crave for the next possible rendezvous (with nature). Planning for a repeat of PX1 with improvisations (short-cuts) was on for over the last so many weeks and I was eagerly looking forward to this one. My anticipation for a repeat of PX1 had only intensified over the last few months, ever since PX1 happened, as I’d never gathered enough courage to do a difficult trek before (excuse being that gradual improvement in the difficulty level is more sustainable).

Wiki describes Palani Hills as an eastward extension of the western ghat ranges that run parallel to the west coast of India, while I would call it a valley of answers and a visual delight!

The group had twenty four of us – seventeen from Chennai, four from Bangalore, two from Palani and one from Pondicherry. The Chennai team met up at Koyembedu, KPN bus stand at around 9.15 p.m. and the bus left at around 10.00 p.m. I’m sure those hopeful of catching up with sleep prior to the rigor of a difficult trek lost all hopes of sleep with my constant and energetic (means loud!) conversation with a few till past midnight! Respite came to all and sundry in the bus with respect to sleep post 2.00 a.m. (around the time I decided to shut up and retire for the night, myself).

Dawn came too soon to my utter disappointment, but with it our growing proximity to breakfast made me immensely glad. Hot idli/pongal/vada/dosa touched our taste buds and soon filled our stomachs. After finishing our morning ablutions, we set off in a minivan.

Getting off at the starting point (beside a dam), we paid the van driver and set out at 9.45 a.m., walking towards our grand destination. The walk lasted for approximately 30 seconds, after which we had to climb onto a parapet wall and thereafter use the steps to reach the top. A group snap was captured here before we continued on our path.

The first one hour was a flat trail, with scanty greenery that steadily gathered density as we marched forward. We hit the first source of water and stretched our legs, resuming our journey ahead after refilling the bottles with the nectar-sweet stream water. Now came that part of trail that completely took me by surprise. Huge boulders, each one bigger than the next, as slippery as a wet tiled floor greeted us; if the size of the boulders was intimidating then what of the amazing grip it offered?! After one hour of such pleasurable struggle and a reasonably decent pace of progress, the team gathered at 12.15 p.m. realizing that we’d ventured into a more challenging trail that did not have possible outlets. To make this find more interesting, Ankush who retraced a few steps to gather his lost sleeping bag went missing for more than 45 minutes. So did Karthick who went ahead in search of an exit route.

Ela, Rajesh and I were patiently waiting at the so-called inflexion point – we had not caught up with the rest of them, neither were we the last as Ankush & Karthick were supposed to join us after accomplishing their mission. Seconds ran into minutes and minutes almost into hours (a couple at least). Captain of the ship, Raj arrived on the scene and told us that we had to retrace for 10 minutes to get onto a reasonably penetrable trail. But where were Ankush and Karthick? None had spotted them anywhere! We waited for some more time before Rajesh & Gothan went in search of Karthick. After they disappeared into the wilderness of the path ahead, Saravan kumar appears from no where and clarifies that both Karthick and Ankush were with the captain and that we had to retrace and reassemble. So off we all went with the two hours of wait giving us adequate rest to face the forthcoming challenges in the trail.

Refreshed and recharged, we all marched ahead at 2.30 p.m. The trail was quite steep with lot of thorny bushes at regular intervals. Crossing a particular boulder is vividly embedded in my mind. There was a tree beside which was an impossibly large boulder. The thought that this had to be crossed seemed so ridiculous to me that I was going around in circles trying to find out alternative ways. I laughed out in disbelief when I realized it was not a joke, rather a quite serious and tough task ahead of me. Ela just jumped up, grabbed the tree and did a monkey thing! While I was impressed, even amused, it terrified me to think of how I would be able to manage this mighty feat with a height of 5 feet. Imagine my plight when it was brought to my notice that I was to go next?! I looked helplessly at Ela. It was Karthick who made the grand gesture of bending over and letting me place one foot on his back for balance (I honestly felt humbled). The problem did not end here as Ela had to pull me onto the boulder. Actually this made me feel quite ashamed of myself, so to make up for it I volunteered to pass on the bags to more even grounds so that others can also be subject to a bitter-sweet similar fate.

At 5.10 p.m., we reached another water point (waterfalls actually) where we had 20 minutes time to romance the ice-cold water. Many guys just ran and jumped into the water. The shock of the ice-cold water making them go numb all over was evident in their pained stares, yet they drenched in immeasurable joy!

We started at 5.30 p.m. and reached the campsite at 6.30 p.m. after battling with a difficult terrain of loose rocks, thorny bushes and slippery soil at an incline of 75-80 degrees. The campsite was incredibly beautiful, unlike any other I’ve seen. It was mostly flat surface with the stream cutting across it, enough of water for cooking but not too much to come in the way of camping! We just took a few minutes to settle down and immediately and unanimously commenced our dinner preparations. It was an amazing team effort – work was judiciously split and involved collecting fire wood, setting the fire, washing potatoes, mixing masala and making noodles. Potatoes were grilled and the noodles had CTC Palani Team’s special masala!!! Till around 9.30 p.m. none of us were conscious of the cold weather as the fire and piping hot food kept us diverted, busy and warm. Ram & Vinod were involved in slicing the potatoes, while Sundar and Rajesh were involved in grilling them. Nachiketa and team were busy getting the noodles ready. Anavarathan Raj was busy keeping the fire going at both places. What was I doing?! Well, the most important of them all – moral support!!! Also, I was deeply involved in eating and distributing food to deserving candidates and ensuring that no one eater was monopolizing the food supplies. Ela was walking around providing general gyan on any query pertaining to implementation of the cooking plans. All others were totally engrossed – in eating! Though few of us knew each other from previous treks, the entire group behaved like one family.

We all retired for the night and the captain kept a night fire going which burned through the night on account of the selfless effort of Saravana kumar and Gowtham. I survived the night and in fact slept for close to 4 hours thanks to the 1.50 kg sleeping bag of mine. The burden of carrying it around was well worth the effort. Dawn came and with it came the hope of another exciting day of trekking, of yummy food and of experiencing the magnificence of the perumal peak. We were up and ready by 7.30 a.m. Our uphill climb started at 8.00 a.m. and ended in forty five minutes upon reaching the road (jeep trail). I’m sure all of us together could have made abnormal profits in selling lemons that we picked up on our way to the road!!! We took a 5-minute break and proceeded towards our first waterfall for the day. Reaching at 10.15 a.m. we were all overjoyed at the prospect of a break and jumped at the opportunity to have food – milkmaid, jam & butter with bun, apart from chapattis. I was magnanimously involved in spreading the jam/butter/milkmaid on bun for the folks and managed to steal one for myself while creating a contrary impression. We left at 10.45 a.m. from the water point and targeted reaching the village at 11.45 a.m. The trail was constantly at an incline and without breaking anywhere we reached the village on the dot.

We had a tea break for 15 minutes after which the entire group split into two – one, that was to head to the perumal peak (18 of us) and the other that was to head back to palani after exploring the village (6 of them). I was part of the team that went to perumal peak. We had to work against time – the climb and descend had to be completed within 3 hours as the Chennai team had their bus leaving Palani at 7.30 p.m. (given that it would take 1.50 hours to travel to palani from the exit point of perumal peak).

The trail to perumal peak was at an incline with a lot of dry bushes/leaves. The steps were slippery but it added flavor to our ascend. Vaidi kept us all going through the challenging terrain with his running commentary & sense of humor which made us burst out laughing despite the testing climb/descend. After 2 hours of climbing we reached the top. I was astounded by the scenery that welcomed me. There were mountain ranges surrounding the peak. Few of the valleys between these mountain ranges were clearly visible, so were the dark patches on the neighboring mountains, being shadows cast by the mighty sun.  As though possessed I walked to the far end of the peak and sat down mesmerized. My eyes drank in the serenity of the place, hungry for more. Sun shining brightly on me did not irk me in the way it normally did, as I had lost myself to the present moment. During our onward journey to Palani, I had this question that kept haunting me – are humans as lonely as they are social? I felt something whisper the answer into my ears at the peak – even in loneliness we are social as we have nature staring back at us all the time, wherever & whenever!!!

The descend was incredibly steep with almost no trail, thorny bushes waiting to kiss our skin and right angled ‘drops’. It took us one hour to reach the bus stop (4.45 p.m.), but to our dismay learned that the next bus to Palani was at 6.00 p.m. Meanwhile, we had some snacks and freshened up a bit. The ride to Palani was fun – there was no place to sit and the bus was crowded, so for the first time in my life, I sat right beside the footboard and enjoyed the curvy & bumpy ride while feeling the cold breeze against my cheeks. We reached Palani and boarded the bus at 8.00 p.m. as we’d requested the guys there to hold the bus for us. Could things get more eventful than this? It sure did – the bus to Chennai broke down and was only partly set right. Hence we were stranded at Trichy KPN office for over an hour. That is when we had to take a call – to wait for a replacement or to take a cab to Chennai. Those who had to get back to work took a cab and left at 3.00 a.m., while those who were more flexible with timings chose to stay back and wait for the replacement.

I went feeling a bit low, I came back feeling ecstatic!

Raj Jacob was incredible and his organizing was impeccable (nothing surprising but always worth mentioning). Anavarathan Raj had a soothing effect on those who were relatively inexperienced/first timers, his words of encouragement and patience in navigation went a long way in helping them see the finish line. My fascination revolved around the team’s behavior as one family. I totally admire the first timers for their determination and grit in completing this trek. The time spent with each other amidst the exaltation of nature will always be cherished by me. My best trek ever!

Palani Exploration 5 (PX5)

Approximately 9 treks and a year ago, it was my dream to be able to go on a difficult trek organized by Peter, the founder of CTC and a God of sorts to all Trekkers. Today, after having lived this dream for 3 days and making it a successful reality, I look back at the path traced by me during the last one year to reach this destination – slow, yet steady! It is not about physical stamina but more about mental strength to go through the test of terrain – mind over matter! My first trek with Peter, for which I had been preparing for over a year (building on mental grit more than the physical one), has ended up becoming a true benchmark.

Soon after I registered for PX5, I was thrilled to see my name in the confirmed list of participants. Ever since this happened, I immediately booked my tickets and was enthusiastically engaged in a count-down. The journey that I was eagerly awaiting began and so did a lifetime of bonding with fellow-trekkers. Though I already knew around 10 of the 34 participants from other treks, the others seemed quite familiar upon introduction, possibly attributable to our common passion for trekking.

Met Peter & Co at Perungalathur and we boarded SRM transport to Dindigul at around 10.00 p.m. The events unfolding prior to my reaching the bus stop in time to board the bus were dramatic enough to be made into a movie. The moment I met Peter, even before greeting me, Peter took one look at the potential pregnancy of my backpack (cause: my sleeping bag) and expressed his sympathy (direct addition of 1.30 kgs to the backpack without adding the weight of food and other essentials)! Well, I did not have much of a choice, having brought it, I had to carry it. But I was confident that the pain of carrying it would be amply rewarded when the chillness tries to wage a war with my body at the campsite in the mountains/plains.

Day I (Friday): We all got off at Devadanapatty (few kilometers away from Dindigul) and coordinated with the other groups to meet at a common place – being the only breakfast shop which was prepared to make food for 34 people by 7.00 a.m. Breakfast was sumptuous – parota, idli, dosa, different dishes made of egg and poori, apart from tea and milk (Brijesh – being the milk baby!). While I was waiting for food to get ready and treated my stomach to tea as an appetizer, Venkat diligently bought a toothbrush and paste, maybe he was trying to make up for the next 3 days of no ‘brushing’! But I found it quite hilarious. We provided the amused villagers with much entertainment. Something that caught my attention was the way they served food – with a warm smile that spoke of abundant love, usually unseen in city life.

After breakfast we boarded a mini van which dropped us off near the Manjalar dam. We set off on the wild mission of diminishing the yawning gap between the rat tail falls and 34 tough minds! The initial couple of hours was quite comfortable and then began the steep climbs and the impossibly huge boulders. We dropped our bags at a particular spot and did more steep climbs and jumps to get to the rat tail falls. One look at the beauty of the falls cascading into the expanse of the pool below and I was completely mesmerized. I wasn’t aware of the steps that took me closer to the waterfalls, but when I came back to my senses I was right beside it and absolutely enjoyed getting myself wet. When I went near the pool with the intention of taking a dip, I realized it was a bit muddy, so decided against it. After taking a group snap there, we retraced our path and were back near our backpacks hungry – lunch was over in no time!

Peter told us that we had to do a bit of climbing to get to the top of the rat tail falls which is to be our campsite for the night. What he did not tell us was that this climb would be the wildest, steepest, longest and the most challenging ever.  The steepness of the climb hit me when I realised that every step ahead diminished the visibility of folks around me. There is a particular incident that will remain engrained in my mind forever. Ram and I were stuck at a specific point, progress beyond which was unimaginable, unless we were keen on taking a slide down - upto where was quite unknown, such was the terrain. We were stuck at that spot for 10 minutes, petrified of any movement for fear of getting dislocated. Venkat and Masi gave us the much needed encouragement that got us moving. Ram went first, I was impressed with his courage. After seeing him settle down a bit I thought I had the nerves to go next, but two minutes later as I tried my best to imitate the most intolerable of reptiles (lizard), I made out that I was a miserable failure. Seeing Ram's bag roll downhill with a will of its own was my undoing. I slowly started slipping but venkat grabbed my bag and got me safely back on solid grounds, where not more than 3 to 4 people could rest. As I waited catching my breath, my anxiety heightened not only upon noting the steepness of the climb ahead but also after registering the look on Brijesh's face. I have noticed many emotions on his face before, 'fear' was never one of them! By this time most of us had exhausted our water reserves, even 'The Reservoir' (Brijesh) had gone dry! The one thing that kept us all going through the rest of the day was the unwavering focus on getting to the seemingly evading campsite. The answer to the million-dollar question on why, being the undeniable need for water. We had almost reached the peak when we decided the last leg of the climb had to wait till Peter had taken a look at the prospect. He took one look and said is too risky; Brijesh and Venkat were nominated to find a different and new trail, for which we had to retrace for around 20 minutes. It was 8 p.m, close to 6 hours since we had water and we were still clueless about how long it would take to reach the campsite. Subsequent to a few hours of hanging on to trees and rocks for support, groping in the dark for support, crawling on all fours, a tough climb using ropes and yet another steep climb for half hour without an LED torch, we reached the peak.

It was 9.30 p.m when we reached the peak and almost half of the crowd was still way behind us. Peter, Arun & Brijesh had gone to the campsite in search of the three guys who had already reached the top of the rat tail falls by 6.00 p.m and also to get water for the rest of us folks at the peak. Craving for water like I have never known before coursed through me, my perception of water changed that day - reverence vis-à-vis indifference! Lemon and orange had never felt better on my taste buds, down my parched throat. I remember staying awake till 12 midnight before my hopes of tasting water anytime soon started fading. As masi, venkat and rest of us were debating on whether to go in search of Peter with the help of the GPS device, we heard a gruff voice echoing through the stillness of the night - Brijesh was calling out to us, demanding (he never asks) that we walk towards him. This time we went behind one another with unbelievable discipline and in quick succession, reaching our primary destination first (guys were waiting with water) and the secondary one (campsite) sometime later. My obsession over NUTELLA paled in comparison with the emotion that I experienced when I had the first drop of water in 9 hours! Brijesh conducted interviews and recorded the feelings of souls such as mine asking about how we felt after swallowing 750 ml of water in one gulp! And of course the response was unanimous - 'blissful'!

At the campsite we made Maggie/soup and had dinner at 2 a.m. The main advantage of the timing was that we had lost many of them to deep sleep resulting from exhaustion. The hot dinner and the cozy interiors of my sleeping bag kept me warm and I drifted into sleep, waking up only to the smell of tea, cool breeze and the lush beauty at the source of the rat tail falls.

Day II (Saturday): After the trying terrain of day one, we were groomed to be able to handle anything that came our way. Through the day we were trekking at a decent pace, had a relaxed lunch and a comfortable journey till our exit point, the ghat road. We took a bus to Kodai and had sumptuous dinner at Hotel Hilltop. We then set off to camp at the entrance of the pine forest 20 kms from Kodai. The weather started off being cool and steadily progressed into becoming 'cold' urging me to get a monkey cap, which became a part of me during the third day of our trek to Gundar falls.

Day III (Sunday): was more a treat to the eyes, mind and soul. Trekking was a bit tricky at places but we had become unconquerable - no terrain could make us bow our heads. We had periodic breaks at gorgeous spots, filled with lovely water bodies - either pools or flowing water laced with moss, and greenery in all directions. We had elaborate meals as well - breakfast and lunch! The climb from the Gundar falls, where another group snap at different angles and with different poses were captured, to the exit point of the pine forest was very steep, but it lasted for a little over half hour. Despite continuous trekking for the last three days, most of us had energy left in us to do cycling around the Kodai Lake for 45 minutes, before boarding our bus for the return journey. We paused at regular intervals to take snaps, capturing the happy moments and even had ice creams!

The way we ate during the entire trek, kept me reminded of something a German co-trekker in one of my earlier treks said about CTC - he said that CTC should be renamed Chennai Trekking & Eating Club!!!

I was the ‘only rose amidst a sea of thorns’, as someone succinctly put it, however a rose feels at home only amidst thorns and this rose was no different! :P Special thanks to those who shared their food/water with me and gave me company at difficult spots, in the name of chivalry. Hats off!!!

It was my best trek ever - a mix of everything - fear, elation, frustration, thirst, hunger, concern for all!!! One comprehensive experience, I must say. There was a time on Friday late evening when I actually gave up and let go with a couple of drops of tears in my eyes. Though I was ashamed at the helplessness I felt, I never fail to be honest with myself. Raj pulled me up at a couple of places during the climb to the peak amidst the engulfing darkness - ever grateful for that. Within few seconds of the tears coming out, they dried up because I realised I'm not someone who gives up - especially when the going gets tough, I believe only the tough can get going. This trek pushed my endurance and helped me comprehend the depth of my mental stamina (more than the physical one). Well, the saving grace being the fact that the next two days I did not accept any help and managed on my own :) :) :), called bouncing back - felt incredible !!!

Night Trek 880m Peak

It was a last minute decision of mine to join the trek and I was given to understand that I was also the last to register. Luckily for me, I got selected! 
Trekking initially captures one’s interest and kindles their curiosity and excitement alike. It is mostly a get away from something back home (to me it initially was)! But subsequently it turns out to become an obsession, albeit, a healthy one. I am no exception to this observation of mine. The intensity of the obsession is such that unless exhaustion takes over, I lie awake at night, reliving my past experiences and craving for the next one!
It was my 5th trek with CTC in the last 8 months. ‘Trekking’, to me has become synonymous with CTC!
Twenty four nocturnal souls set out at 5.30 p.m on Saturday evening with Brijesh as the leader of the pack, heading to an undisclosed location for a night trek! The enchantment in the whole thing was the fact that we were uninformed about the plan – neither the place nor the trail. Brijesh was adept at keeping both these away from the team, adding to much of the curiosity and anticipation of every member.I could guess which place we were headed to especially with the route, it was Nagalapuram. However clarity on whether Eastern or Western entry came much later, just within half hour of reaching the place.  
We reached at 10.30 p.m. and started our trek at 11.10 p.m. It was a clear night sky lit up by the silver of the moonlight and studded with stars aplenty. We reached the first source of water within the first hour and proceeded further on a different trail (one that I hadn’t been on during my earlier treks to Nagala west). The trail was mostly an upward climb for over two hours. Initially people were loud and totally engrossed in conversation with each other. As the climb got steeper, I noticed that the chattering had reduced to a deafening silence. I was out of breath within the first twenty minutes and was appalled to dwell on what that meant – not being in shape. It is demoralizing to be faced with the reality of our stamina levels. It was only when I noticed everyone around me (including a few experienced souls) panting for breath that I felt much lighter again. I found out the reason for the constant thirst and frequent 5-minute breaks - the steepness of the climb that lasted for over two hours. We hit a relatively flat surface by 2.00 a.m. Until we reached the plateau, Brijesh effectively left us clueless on what lay ahead! His standard response was ‘we are just few minutes away’ that blatantly gave away his pretence after the first 30 minutes. However, it was at the plateau that Brijesh attempted to give us a picture, though a hazy one, of what lay ahead (only for the next few hours, till around 6.00 a.m.). The trail ended at the plateau (at an altitude of 600m) that had a small stream, which was the only source of water for the next few hours and Brijesh gave his team a choice – to either camp at this spot or follow him to the 880 m peak. Nine of them who were desperate to catch up with beauty sleep chose to stay back while the remaining 15 of us (including me) marched ahead!
The plateau seemed miraculous – small shrubs, tall grass, small boulders and quite a few thorny bushes that were all randomly scattered across the plateau. Such a flat surface at 600m altitude was mind blowing! Everything was green – different shades of it, from the lightest to the darkest. No computer can ever try reproducing the myriad shades that came up amidst the landscape. We also spotted deserted huts on the way, which was probably where the villagers took shelter from rain/sun during their firewood gathering sessions. 
The coolness of the dew drops on the grass below were reaching out to soothe our sweat drenched, tired bodies. We kept trekking ahead despite the body aches, scratches and few bloody encounters with the thorny bushes. At around 4.30 AM we were around 100m from our destination – the 880m peak. At this point Shrija had cramps in her calf muscles and said she could not move any further. Yashwant and Guru decided to give her company while the others continued the march forward. By now, we had ceased to believe our gang lead on timelines and proximity to destination. In order to salvage his credibility, Brijesh showed me the altitude reading on the GPS at regular intervals so that I could actually be in touch with reality. I will not say that the climb was difficult; rather, it was annoying with the tall grass and loose boulders that did not help much with footing or grip. As we were approaching the peak, we could see its silhouette from afar. At 4.00 a.m. with just the moonlight aiding visibility it was a pretty eerie sight. The peak seemed to be an inaccessible dark land, darkness due to shadows cast by the multitude of plants/shrubs/trees at every visible spot. However, later I was pleasantly surprised to note that this “eerie” piece of land turned out to be the greenest and most beautiful spot I’ve ever set foot on!
We had continuously trekked from 11.10 p.m. with just a few minutes of break on and off. I was beginning to reach the tethers of my stamina level and my body was about to give up on me. I was just holding on by sheer mind power. Just as I was coaxing myself to focus on the destination without thoughts on timeframe, I heard a shout of joy from co-trekkers and also heard Brijesh’s voice echoing through the wilderness of the mountain. I was ecstatic to notice that we had at last reached the peak. Without further ado I almost doubled up my climbing efforts in an attempt to share the excitement of having reached the 880m peak!  
I just grabbed the nearest rock for support. The astounding sight that welcomed me made my knees weak and I sat on the rock. I was staring at the early morning sky - its glory was beyond comprehension. Nature, in all its mystery, brilliance and grandeur always manages to dumbfound me. I sat there dumbfounded and completely at a loss for words. Suddenly everything about the world seemed right! I thought that as long as I could be the recipient of such magnificence, everything should, but be alright! 
I’m sure all my co-trekkers had their own moments too! Nature is so powerful that despite giving itself to everyone, it only ever seems to gather might. It makes each individual feel important. It gives healing to everyone alike. I think ‘nature’ and ‘spirituality’ are linked in this sense!
Soon it was time to watch the sunrise. We were all sitting east-facing, huddled next to each other as the wind got chilly. The sky was light blue at first with a light orange halo around the place from which the sun was to emerge. The dawn sky turned pink, purple, darker blue, orange and finally yellow! The sun, looking like a small yellow circle started taking a peek into our side of the world and I could see life flow through every living being on this side of the planet. The shrubs got brighter, the butterflies got more active and the mist started clearing out. I was waiting for the chillness of the mist to be offset by the warmth of the sun. As that moment approached, I closed my eyes for a few minutes, savouring the feel of both these against my skin. It was truly an unforgettable moment for me!    
There was super demand for the spot I had taken which was set almost like a chair – a base for ones seat and a backrest, absolutely comfortable! Except that Brijesh amongst few other suddenly took a fancy to it. Due to lack of space with many of them vying for my seat and the craving to stretch my body, I shifted out and this gave Brijesh and Rajesh (sounds rhyming!) enough space to spread their tired limbs. Normally I am quite aware of the surface on which my body rests due to which I seldom get peaceful sleep while on a trek. But the 6 hours of continuous trek had achieved the inevitable. I was absolutely dead to the world for two hours (so was everyone around me!). I woke up to a millipede trying to crawl onto my ankle. It was truly a blessing that I wasn’t fully awake as I used a twig to redirect its movement away from me (otherwise all hell would have broken loose!). We woke up at 8.20 a.m. and then started our trek downhill by 9.00 a.m. What took us 4 hours during the night was completed in just over 2 hours and 30 minutes. We were at the base camp at 10.45 a.m. where we were greeted by the brightness & chirpiness of those left behind (after 6 hours of sleep, right beside a source of water).
We went down to reach the second pool at 12.30 p.m. This was the first time the entire team got to relax together and we had a whale of a time in the pool. As is trademark CTC activity, we gathered firewood to cook our delicious lunch – a mixture of noodles and pastas that tasted yummy! After food, we settled accounts and a group of 9 members (including me) left earlier to reach Chennai at 8.30 p.m. while the others stayed back and proceeded to pool 3 for further respite from the scorching sun. We heard they reached Chennai at around 11.00 p.m.
But for coaxing and prodding by Brijesh I am sure the climb (especially the one uphill past the base camp) would have been quite impossible, given the lack of proper trail and the long grass coupled with loose boulders coming in the way of good grip between our feet and the ground. His relationship with the mountains can be compared with that of a butterfly to a flower! He carried in his bag a never-ending source of water (bottle after bottle he released whenever we moaned for water especially after all our bottles got empty). Impeccable were his organization skills – no glitch in the whole plan, created and executed like the Lord Almighty himself - impressive!!! 
Credit should also be given to the entire group where team spirit was amazingly evident. The sharing, caring and giving came naturally to everyone.  The much required recharge to the spirits and soul was reflecting off every face.
The experience was a memorable one indeed, a home away from home as each of us came alive amongst the wilderness!!!

Nocturnal Nagala

Every time I think of trekking, my mind conjures up images of a group of motivated souls, backpacks, water bottles and broad daylight. Never did it occur to me that trekking could also happen at night amidst darkness and the loving kiss of moonlight.

Nocturnal Nagala was a revelation of kinds to me. It was an all-encompassing experience – a night trek, steep/challenging terrain and incessant rains through the night. Nocturnal Nagala enlightened me on my own potential and stamina. I drove close to 250 kms – prior to starting our trek and post our trekking expedition.

I did not plan to take my car initially; however, upon request to bring my car, the only condition I made was to stop for tea at Uthukottai on the way to Nagala (what to do?! Most of us are addicted to something in life!).

We started from Chennai CMBT bus stop at 11.00 p.m. in four cars. As usual, I was right behind the lead car, barely able to restrain myself from overtaking the mighty ‘Ritz’. I noticed that I had company with respect to the seeming ‘restraint’, as there was a Scorpio, the driver of which I’m sure was used to driving a plane (maybe), certainly not a car!!! It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride to Nagalapuram with loud music and louder chatting all the way.

We reached Nagala at 1.30 a.m. and immediately got down to distributing food – apples, mango bites, Glucon D, chapathi packets and other goodies. We set out at 2.00 a.m. The first sight that greeted us was that of a snake. It was just coming out of a puddle of water and heading for cover in the nearby bush! Five minutes into the whole thing and it was getting enjoyable already. The familiar smell of dampness, plants and insects greeted us. Guru and his lead man (Mani) had the GPS to guide us on the trail. We spotted a couple of bull frogs, though initially we mistook them to be a piece of rock. Such a fat ass it was - slimy and disgusting; yet alluring and fascinating. Night life at Nagala held us all enraptured as we steadily progressed into the mountain range along our planned trail. It was tiring and strenuous with the narrow focus of our torches guiding our way. The sound of the wind in the trees around us and water in the stream somewhere nearby kept us all going. The silence of the moonless night was amazing. We had crossed the first pool, supposedly the second as well and were heading towards the third.

As we were taking stock of our position we found that we were at the steepest possible incline ever. There was hardly any flat surface enough to fit our seats. Our precarious balance was reflected in the way we were hanging on to tree branches and sticking to boulders for dear life. It was then that the thought of a lizard fascinated me – how conveniently it could stick onto surfaces, against gravity?!

Stimulated by the nocturnal sounds of the forest, we suddenly realized we had lost our trail somewhere between the second and the third pool! Oh  never mind, said the entire group, the enjoyment mirrored on their glowing faces – such were the spirits, a commendable team effort! So what if we had lost the trail, we hadn’t lost our minds/soul! We trekked continuously for close to 7 hours and finally arrived at the fourth pool.

I’ve already been to the first, second and the third pools during my other treks with CTC. Despite which, every time I set eyes on them, love happens all over again – the beauty of nature consistently overwhelms me! However, nothing could have prepared me for the glorious sight of the fourth pool. I was completely bowled over. The waterfall came from great height and its force almost unbearable. I became silent for quite some time as I was drinking in the scenic magnificence (only nature has the power to get me dumbfounded and I’m sure all my co-trekkers will nod vigorously in assent). Just when I think nothing is as beautiful as what I have witnessed, it is again nature that beats its own benchmark. The force of the waterfall was intimidating, but I was sitting right in front of it and mentally coaxing myself for a dip in the pool. Though I’m not a great swimmer (due to lack of adequate practice), I love water! That is something that motivates me to get into every pool that comes my way. I dragged Mani along with me and drew some comfort from his presence (I’m not sure of the vice-versa bit, though!). The chillness of the water made me go numb all over as I strode purposefully towards the waterfall. There were two smaller ones on the way to the largest waterfall. I believe in slow and steady – leading to astounding accomplishments. I set foot under each one, conquering it and at the same time being humbled by the warmth it bestowed on me. The largest one was so forceful that it almost threw me into the small pool ahead, just by the might of its speed. Well, I refused to let it intimidate me – I stayed under its steady and strong flow for a few minutes filling water in the vessel and bottles for making tea. I then, went back to join rest of the crowd taking rest and stretching their already overworked muscles.

The next 2 hours were spent in trying to start fire for making tea. We then found out that none of us had the tea (dust) packet with us. However, we had with us Nestle milk powder and sugar. So the immediate thought that popped in Mani’s head was to make hot milk. Something hot was so enticing that I promptly seconded his thoughts. So we set out to do the same. The milk was damn tasty, I think it had more to do with my effort than the taste of stream water used (winky)!

We resumed our trek at 12.00 noon. As we went past the fourth pool to reach the source of its waterfall, the trail was immensely challenging, with steep incline coupled with loose rocks everywhere. It was a wonder that all of us managed the climb without major issues. Prior to reaching the source of the fourth pool’s waterfall, we were taken to a breathtaking viewpoint. We could see the source of the waterfall from a distance and were surrounded by rocks and greenery. Marvellous sight! We took snaps of the gorgeous scenery and I managed to climb onto the last boulder/rock beyond which was magnificent void – air and space! Subsequently, we trekked to the source of the fourth pool’s waterfall. It was a small pool by itself. I joined Mani, Arun & Co in exploring the nearby area and was gifted with the discovery of two more pools with small waterfalls. Climbed onto its source and sat on it, enjoying the force of the stream trying to push me down its length and into the pools. Few others joined us at these pools later. And all thanks to the lead team comprising Guru & Mani and the sweeping team comprising Arun & Shankar. They were amazingly patient, helpful, encouraging and invincible at all times!

We trekked back to the third pool by 7.00 p.m., where we decided to camp for the night. Again, camp fire was started and hot upma was served for dinner. Our ravenous hunger was responsible for the upma disappearing within  minutes of being served. Totally dead beat and exhausted, we set our sleeping mats and got ready for bed. At around 11.00 p.m. most of us had retired to bed. Arun was just explaining to me about his previous trekking experience wherein it had rained and due to the size of the group and the lack of adequate tarpaulin sheets, he had to sleep under the sky with just his cap protecting his face from the rains. The thought of that chilled me to my bones. I was fervently hoping that it wouldn’t rain that night. As soon as this thought crossed my head I heard Arun say that it is cloudy and he smells rain. My heart just sank at the thought, but I cheered myself up by remaining positive. Just as the reassuring thought coursed through me, I felt droplets of rain water on my hands and face. Damn it, I thought! I heard myself call out to Arun as he was lying down somewhere close by. Four of us including Arun went speeding towards people with extra tarpaulin sheet. Grabbed and yanked the extra sheet off them. Most of us used the tarpaulin sheet to cover ourselves, with our sleeping mats beneath us. I’ve only had soft bed sheet/blanket covering me, never a plastic sheet. It was initially suffocating, but I coaxed myself saying I could breathe and that’s all that mattered. Ten minutes later, I woke up with a weird wet feeling on my neck and back and to my utter dismay I realized it was rain water and that my entire sleeping mat was almost drenched. Hmmmm…..what to do? It then hit me that the intensity of rain was not letting anything remain dry. It felt like ages since it started raining and so I looked at my watch. God, it was only 12.30 a.m. When was the night going to come to an end? It struck me that it was going to be a very long night! To my relief  I realized I had company in staying awake, as movement around me caught my attention. Every half hour I heard Shankar call out for the time and I meticulously kept track of it for the entire team (lol)! Through this mess, Nithya started wheezing just when Guru and Mani came to her rescue. As the minutes rolled by, things got better and the experience was more palatable! I realized then that most things in life are a matter of habit or a matter of time! The entire group came awake at 5.45 a.m. The eagerness to start trekking back was blatantly visible with our body language! It occurred to us that since it had rained through the night, the trail down would be more challenging and slippery. But by now, the previous day’s experience had prepared us to face any kind of trail – challenging or otherwise!

As soon as the group reassembled, with each of us sharing our experiences of wetness and cold with the other, the night that previously seemed unbearable turned out to be a pleasant memory. As predicted, our speed was decent and we managed to reach the second pool within 40 minutes. We halted at the second pool – this is where I had my quota of fish pedicure! We were rummaging through the left overs of our food supplies and shared whatever was left of it – groundnut bars, chapathi packets with pickle, biscuits, chocolates and even oranges. We started by 8.45 a.m. from second pool and bumped into another CTC group that had ‘photography’ as its trekking mission for the weekend. We exchanged pleasantries and captured couple of group photos and continued our merry way to the parking lot by 10.30 a.m. We started by around 11.15 a.m., reaching Chennai by 2.45 p.m.

A very memorable, marvelous, magical, wonderful, splendid and revealing trekking expedition indeed! Thanks to Guru/Mani/Arun/Shankar (CTC) for all the support. I’m so glad to be part of this awesome club!!!