Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Aqua camp - Kayaking, Rafting, Surfing & much more! :)

February 16th to 19th, 2011
It was at around 8:00 p.m., when my sister and I were watching a boring practice match between Australia and South Africa in Chinnaswamy stadium when I got a call from Sowmya, the organizer at the Aqua camp who informed me that the camp will be starting a day late and I could still be a part of it. After having a chat with my sister and listening for the millionth time as to how much fun she had at the camp, I finally decided to go! J And thank God I did J
I met Avani & Nanda at the Bangalore bus stand the next day morning & soon the three of us were on our way to Hassan. Even though the three of us were strangers, we ended up talking a lot! We reached the Hassan bus stand and then caught a bus to Gorur.  Once we reached Gorur, we asked the locals for directions & the three of us reached the inspection bungalow (IB) of the Hemavathi river dam. It was a beautiful campus. We got into the main building and introduced ourselves to the other organizers and took our seats next to around 20 others who were attending the camp.

The saviour! :)
All of us were asked to leave our backpacks in the rooms assigned to us. After that, we introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. We were each given a paddle and a life jacket and then we all went to the camp site, which was on the shore of the dam. We could see only water till the horizon on the west and north-west of the camp and a temple (around a km away) on the north; the remaining sides were either barren land , hills or a mini forest. We were asked to get into the water and swim for some distance. Once our instructors made a note of who can/cannot swim, we were let to swim as far as we want with our life jackets.  After around an hour or so, all of us headed back to the IB to have our lunch. We were all split into teams of five and each team had to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner in a rotational basis. Avani, Nanda, Raagu , Krishna and I were in a team. We had to cook dinner that day. After lunch, the five of us took a stroll within IB campus & sat on the miniature layout of the dam and got to know a little bit about each other. Once everyone was done eating, all of us went to the base camp carrying our tents with us. The instructors taught us how to set up the tent, after which Avani & I successfully set up our tent right next to the water! J All the tents were set up in a semicircle facing the water.  We admired the sunset for a while and then went back to the inspection bungalow kitchen to make dinner. We had to cook for 30 people. Avani & I had to cut tomatoes & onions L!!  After shedding a lot of tear, we were finally done with the cutting and we set up the table while the instructors were cooking the food. We joined the rest of the team & all of us discussed our expectations from the camp. Once our team served everyone dinner, we had dinner, took our sleeping bags & mats and headed back to our tents. The night was beautiful!! J It was three days to full moon. The entire camp was lit in moonlight. With the wind on my face, listening to the soothing sound of the waves, I stood in front of the water alone for a very long time. I felt like I could just stand there forever. I realized that we had to get up early next morning, so I reluctantly went back to my tent to sleep.
The paddles
At 6:30 in the morning all of us went for a jog & then did warm up exercise.  Once we had our breakfast, we unpacked the kayaks, rafts, paddles, surf boards and the sails at the IB and then carried it till our camp site. We were all waiting for the part to get onto the kayaks and the rafts J Our instructors first split us into two groups. The group that I was in had to learn rafting that day & the group that Avani was in had to learn to Kayaking. All of us were explained the parts of the paddle, the technique to use it and asked to get into water with the paddle & row, just to get the hang of using the paddle.  After this exercise, my group went to our instructor and he explained the parts of the raft to us. After the instructions were given to us, we were split into two groups again. In my group we were five of us, with one instructor. The five of us took our raft and in turns, used a leg pump to inflate the raft. Once it was inflated, we lifted it and took it into the water. 
Our instructor Vinod, taught us how to position ourselves inside the raft. Once we were in position, he told us which way the raft will move depending on whether we row only on left, only on right or both left & right. After a little bit of practice, we were able to move in the direction he wanted us to move it. Our reference was the temple. Once we were right in-between the temple and the camp, we stopped the raft and Vinod explained a rescue technique to us and then, he asked me to jump into the water! Since I had my life jacket on, I jumped in J It felt good J Once I swam a little away from the raft, he threw me a rope, which I caught hold of, and then faced the sky (with my legs away from the raft), after which he pulled me to the raft. Once I reached the raft, he helped me into the raft by pulling my lifejacket. After this, all of us jumped into the water one by one and swam around for a while and while getting back in, we made sure to use the rescue technique. Once in the raft, we headed towards the temple, racing with the other raft and the kayaks J The view from temple was beautiful. The temple was almost on an island (had road connectivity on only one side). On the way back, Vinod did a backward flip into the water. Some of them tried but in vain L I tried jumping high into the air before hitting the water surface J It was good fun J This time without the instructor’s help we rescued each other with the rescue technique and headed back to the camp.
The other audience for the free concert :)
Avani, Nanda & I discussed how much fun we had J since the kayak looked cooler, I was waiting to get onto the kayak the next day J The three of us were happy that it wasn’t our turn to cook now, and we sat in the shade of a tree on the bank & admired the view of the water till the horizon and the greenery far away. We were joined by two local kids, who were telling me their daily schedule: going to school& then coming home & playing. I wish I was still a kid! L Manju sir was wind surfing & Avani was waiting to get on to the surf board more than anything in the world!! JNanda had a surprise for us!! J He started playing a song from his flute in raaga Hemavathi, as we were seated at the banks of river Hemavathi J He played a very melodious song beautifully. After the free concert, which was held at a beautiful location, we headed back to the IB after bidding our goodbyes to the kids . Avani & I found two couches which were big enough for us to lie down on, if we crouched a bit. We crouched a little and took rest for some time, till they called us for lunch. After having lunch, Avani, Nanda, Raagu, Krishna & I went to the pink glass house & relaxed at its entrance for a bit. Once the whistle was blown, one time: attention! , two times: assemble !!, we went back to the camp site. It was now time for us to swim!! J All of us wore our life jackets and swam as far as we wanted to. I enjoyed floating on my back & staring at the sky for a long time. It felt so calm and I was at peace!! J After the swimming session, the 5 of us sneaked out to the dam. Near the entrance of the dam, Avani & I ran to a point where we could see our camp from far. It looked beautiful. I spread my hands and faced the wind. I wanted to just take off!! I envy the birds! There were so many different species of birds here.
"I believe I can fly"! :)
Suddenly we heard Raagu & Krisha shout “snake!” we ran to see the snake which was somewhere below on the walls of the dam, only to find the spot it was in a minute ago! L  The guard had called someone at the IB by now & then told us he would let us in. We were lucky J He opened the gate for us, pointed to a watchtower 400-500 mts away from us on the dam and instructed us that we could go only till there. We were satisfied and took a stroll till that point.

A walk with the sweest kid I have met :)

We climbed the watchtower with ladder & stared at the beautiful sunset. Once the sun was down, we stared at the moon which was behind us for a while & then, Avani & I reluctantly headed back to the camp, leaving the boys behind.
The beautiful sunset :)
Twilight :)
Crepuscule :)
We saw Aravind & Yash guarding the camp site, while the others were at the IB cooking/discussing the day’s events. We decided to join the guys in guarding the camp. We sat facing the water and I enjoyed singing a keerthana. After sometime it got cold & we sat in the kayaks, facing the moon now. Yash was singing real fast bhajans now & the three of us were following his lead, clapping along. It was good fun J after a while it got very cold and we sat behind a tent in a circle to shield ourselves from the wind. Arvind started doing mimicry! He was superb! J The sounds he made sounded so real! We realized that we had to call someone from the IB to guard the tent when we go to have dinner, so Avani & I promised to send someone and left Aravind & Yash behind. We joined in the discussion on the day’s events at the IB and had dinner, after which 2 boys went to the camp & sent Aravind & Yash to have dinner. After dinner, we headed back to the camp. Just like yesterday, I enjoyed the cool breeze on my face & the sound of the waves for some time, before returning to my tent to call it a day.
The moon and its reflection on the water looked very beautiful in the early hours of the morning J After the exercise in the morning, Avani & I went met Nanda at the IB, and the three of us went to the terrace & admired the view of the vast expanse of water till the horizon. We were soon joined by Krishna. Once breakfast was ready, the four of us went down. When the table was being set, all of us admired the pictures that Manju sir had taken on his various trips. Most of them were of birds, nature & monsoon aqua camp. Once we gobbled the breakfast (we were damn hungry that day), we headed to the camp site.
The kayaks :)
It was my turn to kayak today! JLuckily I got a single seat kayak. After the instructions were given, I put my cam in the dry chamber of the kayak & then dragged it into the water, tilted it & cleaned it & then got onto it J With my paddle in place, I started to row J I was so happy to be in control of the kayak, after the strenuous rafting yesterday where it was hard to coordinate, as it was our first time. Once I was a little away from the camp, I tried rowing in all the directions, made a 360 degree turn with the kayak and then was on my way to the temple J I enjoyed being there in the middle of the vast expanse of water all by myself J around 200 mts away from the temple, it was very shallow & to avoid scratches on the kayak or the paddle, I had to get down and slowly drag my kayak to the other side. There was a teeny weenie island there and I enjoyed standing on it alone for some time and made a 360 degree turn admiring nature and taking a few picturesJ I then put my camera back in its place & got onto the kayak & proceeded towards the temple.
Alone on a teenie weenie island with my kayak :)
At the temple, Sowmya instructed all of us to stand in a circle & we played a game which school children play! But it was good fun J After the game we picked up all the litter we could spot on the island & put it in the raft. Sowmya then asked us to form a circle in the water and then lie on our backs and relax for some time. It felt really good. It was very sunny & after picking up the trash, we needed a good break J After a while, we all got back onto our raft/kayak and headed back to the camp. Sowmya was with those of us who were on the kayaks. She was asking us to move in different directions, slow down kayaks and generally testing us on our kayaking skills and later asked us to row back to the camp. I slowed down a bit, and hummed a song while rowing and enjoyed the peace around me. When I was around 100 mts away from the camp, as instructed by Sowmya, I jumped into the water and then tried getting onto the kayak, but in vain L This was pretty hard & I bruised my elbows in the attempt to get onto the kayak. I pulled the kayak while swimming and reached the shore. Thanks to the kitchen team, we all had yummy lemonade once we reached the camp. We headed to the IB and as usual, Avnani & I slept on the couches waiting for lunch to be ready.
Rescue technique when a raft goes upside down

After having lunch, all of us headed back to the camp site. Avani & I were always walking in the long route to the camp, wondering how everyone else got here so quickly. We got to know about the hole in the fence only now! My rafting team and our instructor realized that we didn’t learn the rescue technique in case the raft tilts upside down! So we took a raft and the five of us with the instructor, went into the water and got into our raft. It was very windy! We struggled a lot just to row around 200mts away from the camp. Vinod told all of us to stand on one side of the raft and he held a rope which was tied to the raft in his hand. Due to the shift in weight, the raft went upside down! Once we were all in the water, Vinod (with the rope still in his hand) and another teammate got onto the tilted raft. Once the two of them on the upside down raft went to the opposite side of where the rope was tied to the raft, Vinod pulled the rope as the raft tilted due to the shift in equilibrium, and two others clung on to the raft and ended up inside it when the raft was in position and helped the rest of us inside the raft! It was a superb concept! JI was amazed! J Since it was too windy, we tried it just once more as the wind kept pushing our raft to the shore, after which we went back to the camp, lifted the raft out of water and parked it on the bank. Nanda, Krishna & Raagu had to leave to Bangalore that day itself. After we bid them goodbye, Avani & I went back for a swim. Manju sir was wind surfing and as usual Avani was in aweJ  Manju sir offered to let Avani sit on the deck  and took her for a ride after which all of us got our turns. I felt I was zooming sitting on water surface! J It felt awesome and now I was dying to learn how to surf, just like Avani J
It was our turn to make dinner again! On our way back to the camp, Avani & Vinod were making somersaults! J We got help from the others, since 3 from our kitchen team were missing! It was good fun cooking. The vegetable pulao turned out to be very tasty. After Avani & I served everyone, we had dinner and then headed back to the camp. Since it was my last night in the camp, I stood for a very long time in front of the water and as usual reluctantly headed back to the tent due to fatigue.
Misty morning :)
It was very misty in the morning. We could hardly see anything beyond 100 mts. After the exercise, Avani & I took a walk around the IB , we spotted a Kingfisher and many other birds. After having breakfast, we headed to the campsite. It was bright & sunny as usual now! J All of us were too excited to learn surfing J Manju sir explained the parts of the surfboard & the sail, taught us how to assemble the parts of the sail & the sail to the surfboard. After the theory, we were split into 3 teams with one instructor each & told to balance on the surfboard. The first time I stood on it, my legs were all shaky! And I had to go from the deck to the nose, along the rails and then to the tail of the surfboard till it tilted enough for me to fall off. The next few times on the board were good fun JBy default, the surf board was moving with the waves and I felt very good surfing J Once all of us finished surfing, we had lunch. I packed my bag, as it was time for me to leave, since I had my exams in a few days L I bid goodbye to the instructors & all the participants. Since there were 2 more camps following this one, Avani decided to stay. After bidding Avani goodbye at the entrance of the IB, I caught a bus to Hassan.
Wind surfing! :)

On my way back home, I was loaded with beautiful memories from the camp J Thank you GETHNAA, all the instructors and all the participants of the camp, especially Avani for making it an amazing aqua camp J
Thank you Nanda for the pictures.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Nagala - The Magical Land :)

May 28th & 29th, 2011
It is Friday evening.. I am just lazing around at home, drinking a hot cup of coffee in my cool CTC mug, which we got as a token of appreciation for our participation in the Treasure Hunt(TH). As I look at my mug, all the memories of the trek come flooding back and the team names on the map – Hungry Wolves, Eastern warriors, Mountain Kings, Nagala Pirates and Chennai Trekkers , put a smile on my face and I am motivated to write down about my experience, just to relive the moments :)

The teams

It was Saturday morning around 7:00a.m , when Aswin and I arrived at Nagalapuram, after saying our goodbyes to Sunil and Akash at the previous bus stop ( they had to join their teammates there). I was introduced to Ram, one of my team leaders and then introduced myself to the rest of the team. I was glad to see Raj, with whom I had been on my previous trek. Rajeswaran (Captain ) , Shailaja (5 star rani ), Jayanthi and I went in Captain’s car till the starting point of the trek ;  Ram, Ela , Arun and Rajapandipan (RP) came on their bikes; we left Raj behind to wait for Lakshmikanth (LK) . 
All of us split the food and started our trek with Wolf (our team mascot) and his friend Fox at around 8:30 a.m. Within 20 mins into forest, we sort of lost our way, but we were back on track in no time. Wolf and Fox were so excited to see us, because they wanted food and were running around us the whole time with so much energy; on the contrary, I was feeling very tired in just half an hour, as the temperature difference between Bangalore and Nagala was more than 15 degrees that day and it took some time for me to get adjusted to that weather;  I had also cut my thumb pretty deep while cleaning my swizz knife, the previous evening and could still feel the pain. Ram and Ela looked a little worried I guess, wondering if I would be able to make it all the way in good time, as I haven’t trekked with them before,  they didn’t know that I would be okay soon :) I kept shooing Wolf and Fox, as I was afraid I might kick them while keeping a step, but after a while I got used to them around and it felt good at one point when I was in the end, because they were giving me company by running back and forth :)

One step here & one step there!

I had heard about the pools in Nagala and I was waiting to jump into the first one. But when we came across the first pool, Ram told us we will get into it on our way back tomorrow.  I was a little disappointed, but since it was a TH, I was motivated to reach the treasure quickly, and we continued our trek hopping on the rocks along the stream.

The Dead End Pool - My favourite pool! :)

We finally reached the dead end pool! :) This time there was no stopping from jumping into the pool, as we had to cross it to reach our treasure. This pool is my favorite pool :) It is surrounded on two sides with walls of rock and on one side with a huge boulder,  apart from the side where there is a clearing from where we entered. I got into the swimming tube and went to the middle of the pool, looked up at the clear blue sky and kept making 360 degree turns. It was heaven!! :) I just loved it :) Since we had to ferry the luggage, some of us were near the clearing, some of us in the water and some of us climbed on the rock wall to our right and we positioned ourselves so that we can pass on our backpacks from one person to the next and transfer them to the other side. Swimming tubes and mats were used to make sure the backpacks don’t become wet. Once this was done, I was tempted to jump into the water just like some of them did, but I was a little nervous. The jump was from around 12 feet height. Thanks to Jayanthi (who jumped before me, with a tube on ) ; Ram and Arun ( both of who  promised to save me :) ) , I took the jump without the tube and caught the tube which Arun threw once I surfaced the water. It was awesome!!! J I loved it. I wanted to do it again and again, but I was hungry and I thought of eating the cream bun and then jumping again if time permits. Captain shouted all of a sudden! I got scared thinking there was a snake in the pool, only to realize he was being nibbled by the fishes in the pool and  he didn’t like it one bit! All of us got out of the water to eat. Once we were done eating, our leaders realized we cannot wait for Raj and LK here, since we couldn’t reach them on phone we had no idea where they were, so we should keep moving.  We bid goodbye to Wolf, Fox and oh! another dog(which I dint know existed till then!) who didn’t want to swim. We left swimming tubes for Raj and LK to ferry their backpacks and continued walking along the sides of the rock wall. Just behind the big boulder at the end of the dead end pool, there were two more boulders which we had to cross.  RP and Ela helped all of us cross them. We continued our trek along the stream.

The read headed chameleon

We came to a point when our leader Arun ( the navigator ) said we need to ascend to our right. I never saw Arun using the GPS or the maps. All of us trusted him in knowing the route and Arun trusted his instincts! :) He wanted to make sure it was the right turn to the right and said he will confirm and get back. We rested on the rocks next to the stream. 5 star rani was busy eating her 5 star, rest of them were chit chatting or taking pics of the red headed chameleon and I was busy trying to keep my feet away from the red ants. After a while we heard Arun shout out to us that we need to go a little bit further before turning right to ascend. After taking a few steps, we looked up only to find Arun climbing a rock wall which was I guess more than around 70-80 feet high from where we were. I was amazed at how quickly he got so far!

The right turn which did not turn out to be right!

We took a right turn (which did not turn out to be right!) and started climbing boulders.  I assumed the path was taken by water years ago, but Ela told me it wasn’t. I realized he was right, cos the boulders were not smooth at all. It took a long time for us to cover a short distance. The boulders were loose and the climb turned out to be adventurous! :) We were all exhausted and out of water. Since we couldn’t find Arun, we took turns shouting out his name. It was fun, cos it was echoing there :) Since our navigator was lost .. oh sorry, since WE were lost and  we didn’t have the GPS with us, thanks to Ram our other leader , who was figuring out what to do next .. he  took  Ela’s map and compass and tried to figure out where we were, looked into the map in his phone and later called Peter on the walkie-talkie. Ram told us that we were just 2kms away from the treasure and we were the closest to it at that point and the first ones to call Peter!! :) We were super exited to know this. But we were on the wrong path and had to descend and then follow the stream. This was bad news due to the boulders and the thorns; never the less, we were still motivated to continue. But we were worried for Arun. He was alone and we had no way to reach him. Some of them who have trekked with him before said he will be fine and it is possible he is ahead of us. Hoping that that was the case, we started our descent.  We came to a point where we could either take a left and go back to the stream where we took a right and started the ascent, or we could take a right and continue trekking with the gorge below us. We took the right turn :) it was both exiting and scary for me to see the gorge below. RP threw a rock and we heard it splash after a few seconds. Hoping that none of us will end up like that rock, I took steps cautiously. 

View of the gorge from above

After a little more ascending and descending, we came back to the stream, welcomed by hundreds of butterflies (brown and black with white and blue spots on themJ ) !!  :) So beautiful.  “ Nagala” sounds so magical to me and at this point, I felt like I was in a fairy tale :) Water finally!! It is the best drink ever!! JWe were tired and badly wanted to eat our lunch as it was around 3:00 p.m. but we munched on cream buns instead, and continued our trek because Ram wanted to make sure we reach the Picnic pool before it gets dark and also find Arun. After a few minutes, fatigue gave in and Ram made sure we break for lunch, to recharge ourselves. We opened our chapatti packets and attacked the ready to eat curry which Ram held. I gobbled till I was full and lay down on a boulder, waiting for the others to finish. We could now hear someone shout!! It was Arun!!  It was a pleasant surprise for all of us to see Arun! He told us we were almost there and how he found the treasure first! It was Red bull for the winning team. As a team we were not first. Chennai Trekkers and Nagala Pirates had already reached and Eastern warriors were on their way. Once everyone finished eating, we continued our trek, following the navigator who now knew exactly where to go :)

In a fairy tale :)

We waded  through water which was around 3 feet deep, zigzagged the stream, ascended a path with thorns and red ant nests , and made the final descent which had like perfect (huge)steps to the Picnic pool :) It was a beautiful pool. It was picture perfect with a small waterfall, rock walls on one side with a little green here and there, green vegetation on the other side and stream in front of it. Some of us jumped into the pool, some of just relaxed on the bank of the stream and I sat on a rock with my feet dipped in the pool admiring the waterfalls. Ram showed me how he was getting free pedicure! I kept my feet still in the shallow area and waited for the fishes to nibble on my feet. At first it felt good, but then I felt like I got a sting! After a while I got used to it and I enjoyed it J  I was hoping it will help with the leech bites I got from the last trek. I wanted to get to the treasure even though we were fourth ( we heard that Mountain Kings were lost), but since most of us were tired, Arun and Ram suggested we go there first thing in the morning . We saw Raj and LK coming from the side which leads to the treasure! They already went there and came back to camp at the Picnic pool! Raj told us how they passed the stream below, when we were lost somewhere above climbing boulders and hence were ahead of us, even though they started the trek late.

The Picnic Pool

It was time for dinner.  I was feeling refreshed instead of tired at the end of the day :)  Few of us volunteered and started cooking after collecting the fire wood. We drank yummy Wooden soup ( recipe: sweet water from the stream + corn soup + mushroom soup + sweet & sour soup + ladle made out of the bark of a tree :) ) and ate Soupy Disco wheat Maggie ( recipe: left over soup + sweet water from the stream  + flash torch light on the  wheat Maggie while cooking ). We had a heavy dinner and decided to sleep early. I got to sleep right next to the stream!! :)  I gazed at the stars for a long time and the sound of the water from the stream was like a lullaby and then I fell asleep. I got up a few times in between as I was being bitten by may be mosquitoes, but instead of being too annoyed I ended up gazing at the stars and then fell asleep again.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. Very few were awake.  I brushed my teeth and decided to take a dip in the pool. I sat for a while getting my pedicure, watching  Akash take his time to jump into the pool. I tried motivating him, along with a few others and he finally made the jump from around 12 feet. I decided it was my turn. I got into the pool, swam till the falls, climbed the sharp rocks, cut my feet and stood on the slippery surface to take a jump, only to realize I had to push myself  forward, a little away from the falls, to avoid hitting the rocks right below it. I took sometime as my feet was hurting and after hearing the encouraging words from the others who were watching and making sure Arun was nearby with the tube, I jumped! I was very close to the rocks! Thank god I missed it. It was fun :) once I surfaced the water, I clung on to the tube passed by Arun and went back and sat on the rock. Gopal told me my feet was bleeding. Thanks to Ram and Arun who got cotton and dettol and made sure the blood clots and gave me a band aid to put on.

On our way to the treasure! Just like in life, it was all about the journey and not the destination :)

After sometime, we all munched on cream buns and started on our way to the treasure!! We clung on to a rock wall, zigzagged the stream , crossed another hundreds of light greenish white butterflies :) Heaven!! :) , saw the Eastern warriors and Nagala pirates on our way, met Peter and took him along to the place where the treasure was. Yippie!! We reached the place finally!! :) After 24 hours!! :) Even though Peter had sent our treasure with someone, so that he could give it to us at the Picnic pool, I wasn’t disappointed. Just like in life, our treasure was in the journey itself and not in the destination :) We asked Peter to take a group photo of the 10 of us and headed back to the Picnic Pool. 
We ate our treasure which was Vochell Fruit & nuts :) We drank ice tea as we cooked Upma  for breakfast . It turned out to be very tasty. We cleaned up the campsite and started our trek to the gorge :) After an ascent and descent we reached a place where we could either continue our walk in the forest or swim in the gorge for 200 mts and then trek along the stream. Raj and Jayanthi decided to walk it and the rest of us, with people from the other teams, first helped ferry our backpacks by positioning ourselves from the top of the gorge ( where I was ) , in the entrance to the gorge ( which was pretty narrow ) , the gorge itself till its exit. After passing the bags down, I climbed down. Thanks to Sabri,  Brijesh and  Prasanna who helped  me down to the gorge as my feet which was bleeding did not let me take support of the rocks and climb down easily. Half way down, there was a rope with knots at equal distance so that we could grip our feet on it and climb down. Peter and 5 star rani were enjoying the burst of water from the stream which flowed into the gorge. I enjoyed the shower for a bit and continued to cross the gorge. Thanks to LK who helped RP, Ela, Captain and I cross the gorge. We picked our backpacks which were on the mid way of the gorge and continued to walk along the rock walls, gripping the walls very hard to make sure we don’t fall into the water/rocks below.

The gorge

We took a small break, ate cream bun, drank the not so tasty mix of Lemon and Orange energy drink and continued our way to the Dead end pool :) with help from Brijesh , Sabri  and Ela, we crossed the two boulders before the pool. From the 12 feet jumping point, I passed the bags to 5 star rani who passed to the next person in queue and they were ferried across the pool to the clearing. Now it was time for me to jump into the pool! :) Once Arun and Brijesh were ready with a tube in the water, I jumped in and Brijesh threw the tube to me after I surfaced the water. It was superb!! :) I so wanted to do it again and told Marie(but had to go eat lunch with my team) . Marie told me to do the jump again and told me I would regret not doing it once I was back in Bangalore and now I regret not jumping again :( More number of people attacked the curry in Ram’s hand this time with the chapatti.

On the way back to my favourite pool :)

Once we were done eating, we made our way to the first pool easily by following Brijesh who knew the route well and then finally we got to enter the first pool! :) we took turns to get massage from the burst of water at one corner of the pool. It was amazing :) Ram, Arun, Brijesh , Rinkesh and I had a water fight. Thanks to Ram, I now know the right technique to use in a water fight :)
Ram and I were on our way to the end point of the trek when Ram was teaching me which direction to go in  depending on the direction of the stream. We were soon joined by Ela and Brijesh.  We came across a place littered by the locals who don’t know the treasure they have : Nagala itself. Fox was here eating the leftovers! We met Aswin with another teammate of his & he told us how they got lost & told us he will be back after taking a dip in the first pool. We reached the dam ( the starting point of our trek ) and sat in shade and admired the mountains around us. Arun told us he will eat 20 bajjis in the village. I began to feel hungry all of a sudden! We came to the point where the vehicles were parked. Again we were out of water! I had a chat with Akash and Freedom who told me they got lost and found their way back after exploring more mountains and then walking along the circumference at the base of the mountains to where we were.  I still had my 5 star and I shared it with 5 star rani who already had a 5 star in her hand and a few others resting on a mat in the shade of Peter’s car.  Once all my teammates were back, we headed back to the main bus stand in Nagalapuram and ate bajjis on our way and drank buttermilk near the bus stand :)

I found my treasure in nature itself! :)

Thank you Peter  and the other organizers of CTC for the awesome Treasure Hunt  and to all my teammates who helped me during the trek :) I found my treasure in nature itself :)

Thank you Peter, Ela & Rajapandian for the pictures.

Vellarimala - Heaven on Earth! :)

April 22nd & 23rd, 2011

I was super exited to go on the trek to Vellarimala, from the time I heard about it from a friend of mine last month. I met Jinu and a few other strangers who were going to be a part of the trek to Vellarimala at the Satellite bus stop on Mysore road. In the bus, I overheard a guy  saying “ next two days we are all friends da”  and that put a smile on my face and I was assured that just like on any other treks, I will have fun even on this one irrespective of the fact that I came without any friends of mine. I do not get sound sleep while travelling, so I got to see a lot of forest after crossing God’s own country’s check post. Once we got down at Thamarassery, we walked till the next bus depot , while it was drizzling. I hate getting wet in the rain. But that didn’t dampen my spirits.  I was just thinking positive and hoping that it will be sunny when we trek, so it is ok if it drizzles now. Once we were on the bus to Muthappanpuzha, all of us were staring out the window with our eyes wide open and our jaws dropping. The driver was zooming past villages on a narrow lane but none of us cared as the view was just superb. It was like the paintings which we used to make when we were kids with huts and the mountains in the background. Sushruth was busy shooting pics of the scenery. It was an hour’s journey and once we got down from the bus, we had tea at a tea stand and started off our trek via a village to the Vellarimala  peak :) Guess what!! It  stopped drizzling by the time we passed the village. We munched a little, filled our water bottles and entered the forest area. 

Here we go!

The trek till the Olichuchattam waterfalls was pretty easy.  We met some people from ISRO  who were on their way back and I was amazed that a few elderly people had come too and one of the women’s shirt  was soaked in her own blood due to leech bite and Chaya was startled and wanted to run back home with them, but we convinced her to continue the trek. We started off at 400mts altitude from the village and reached the falls which was around 1300mts altitude.  The falls was very steep and the view was beautiful :) The view of the mist covering the mountains opposite the falls was awesome :)

Olichuchattam waterfalls

We continued our trek from the falls and the trail got steeper and the leech bites increased. Annoying creatures!! We came across a lot of places where the incline was anywhere between 60 and 90(like a huge step) degrees.  Most of the trail was elephant trail (with elephant dung all around else it was the trail made by Ram with his machete).  We climbed on and on… we passed a lot of streams thanks to our local guide Ram, and hence water wasn’t a problem. Whenever we made a pit stop, we checked for leeches, threw salt and eucalyptus oil on and made the leeches drop off our skin. We stuffed ourselves with food and hurried because, Jinu wanted to make sure we reach the peak before it starts pouring. Throughout the climb, I could hear Jinu shouting “move”, Ashwin shouting so many things and some of us shouting back at them for shouting!!  It was 2:00 p.m. , close to 6hrs from when we started the trek. I was like where the hell is the peak!! 

At what time do you think this photo was taken?

According to Trek Wiki, an average climber will take 9 hours to reach the peak ( 13kms to ascend ) . So if I was below average(which I thought I was ) it would take me at least  4 more hours!! Oh god!! Thanks to the GPS Jinu had, he told us we will be there soon and Ashwin kept me motivated saying he will give me dark chocolate when we reach the peak! :) We passed through bushes which were curved & made a cave like entrance towards the peak and opposite to it we could see only mist!! It was breadth taking!! I loved it!! :)

On the way to the Vellarimala peak

We reached the peak by 3:15 p.m (2050mts altitude)!! does that make us above average climbers!! Wow!! :) Priyanka was like, is this the peak??!! It was just a flat land and had bushes around it and there was no view!! I was also equally surprised even though I had read the blogs. I expected some opening which had a view but there were none. But we were all overjoyed that we reached the peak and all of us relaxed and ate lunch in peace. Since there was no water source here, Ram suggested that we trek for an hour longer and then set up the camp. We all agreed and Ram led us. This was the first time I saw Ram in action and I watched him in awe as he cut through the bushes with his machete to make the trail and still kept his pace very high, as I had to literally jog to match his pace. He went off the trail a little, but knew in a minute that he was off, and then was back on track. I made a quick 360 degree turn and looked around to find no difference at all!! How the hell does he know where to go??!!

View on the right from Kethanpara

View on the left from Kethanpara

Finally we came to a clearing in Kethanpara which gave us a breath taking view, for which I have no words to describe!! It was heaven on earth!! :) Only those of us who saw it will know what an amazing view it was!! It was incredible!! :)  None of us wanted to leave this place and camp elsewhere. But we had to leave as there was no flat surface here nor was there any water :( Reluctantly all of us continued our trek to a beautiful open space called REC PaaRa, where we camped.
Once we were all under the tarpaulin sheet, we were trying to make space for everyone and also keep ourselves warm. It started pouring heavily once we were all inside. It was around 5:30 p.m. and it was pretty dark. We were hoping it stops raining, so that we could make a camp fire and then make soup for all of us. But it just didn’t stop. Prateek started entertaining all of us by singing old Hindi songs with background music. I joined him, whenever I knew the lyrics and we were just shouting on top of our lungs most of the time. I realized that it helped me keep warm and started singing nursery rhymes whenever Prateek took time in deciding on the next song. I am not sure if we entertained the rest or bugged them, but Prateek and I, along with a few others were having a good time. It didn’t stop raining and they made fire under the tarpaulin sheet, making sure it doesn’t catch fire and cooked soup, which was yummy. Once I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag and stared out into the sky, I could see the outline of the Vaavalmala mountain whenever there was a lightning. It was beautiful; I never got scared, even though it reminded me of the movie Castaway as I had the company of 16 others. The water from the tarpaulin sheet was dripping at my feet and half the sleeping bag was wet in a few hours. I hardly slept due to the cold weather and kept checking my watch every now and then waiting for dawn. It was around 11:30 p.m. when half of the tent fell down as the stick supporting it, could not hold it any longer as it was raining cats and dogs. Most of us got up to hold the sheet and make the water flow away. Some of us tried to do whatever possible to make the stick hold the tent. Once we were sure this is the best that can be done (we all knew we will be half wet) we tried to get some sleep. In the morning all of us discussed how bad the night was. Prateek was sitting half the night with the tarpaulin sheet right on top of his head and later slept on his bag; Ashwin had no opening in his sleeping bag to breathe; Jinu had to hold the tent in one hand the whole time to prevent water from getting in and so on…

The blue dot in the middle of the picture is where we camped - REC PaaRaa

Once yummy lemon tea was made (thank god they found sugar, else we would have had to drink Assam salt tea!!), half the group went trekking to Vaavalmala peak, while the rest of took rest at the camp site.  Dinesh was arguing with me saying that here, it rains from below! And when I asked him what about gravity, he said forget gravity, I will share the link with you. I am still waiting to see the link! The one thing I regret not doing during this trek is climbing Vaavalmala. Since I was feeling giddy in the morning, I didn’t want to risk it as I knew the descent would be harder than the ascent and I still had 14kms of descent. I hogged on an apple, two buns and three chapattis, before the group who went to Vavulmala returned. Most of them said the view was better than the view from Ketanpara which made me regret my decision to not climb it, even more.  Once we cleaned up the place, we cut a cake to celebrate BASC’s 2nd birthday, and ate the yummy powdered plum cake which was given to us like it was prasada :)

View from Vaavalmala
 Finally we started out descent at around 11:00 a.m. We stopped at Ketanpara for sometime. Ganesh asked me to sit at the edge, along with the rest, and I cautiously moved front and let my legs hang. It was just awesome!! The view was even better here and I felt so close to Mother Nature. Even though I may have scared some people after shouting my lungs out while singing yesterday night, most of them agreed when I said I want to sing and I sang one of my favorite songs “I’m on the top of the world”  by Carpenters. For about quarter of the journey, I was doing pretty fine we kept ourselves motivated by shouting in a friendly way (like ”ooi summne hogo” , “poda dei” ) at those ahead of us :) I should have worn a knee cap :( by the time we were half way down, I was walking like Jack Sparrow in the movie Pirates of Caribbean!! Thanks to Saiesh , Karthik , Bharath , Jinu and Raj I was able to descend .  I absolutely took no break till we reached one of the streams after which Jinu said we will stop only at Ochattilum falls. No matter how long we descended, the falls never came and every time I asked where the falls was, they were like can you hear the falls?? We are almost there. This kept happening and we never took the turn to the falls and nor did we get a break. By now, I could barely keep a step all by myself.

Delicious mangoes from the farm

When we finally reached the village, Saiesh, Karthik, Bharath and I got to eat mangoes and guava grown in the farm. It was very refreshing. Since they took turns in helping me walk, they all got to goto a nearby waterfall and take a dip. When we were around a km from the village, Saiesh got a brilliant idea of walking backwards down the inclined road, so as to put less pressure on the knees. I did the same, with a helping hand for around a km and I was walking at my normal pace backwards and we reached the tea stand finally!!


We took a bus and then an auto to Thamarassery, in-between which  I finally got to eat the dark chocolate :) The chocolate helped me as long as it stayed in my mouth as I didn’t think of the pain in my legs. After eating dinner, we boarded the bus to Bangalore and I got sleep for a few hours due to fatigue. It is Wednesday now, 3 days from when we came back & I am still walking backwards :) It was one hell of a trek experience, very adventurous!! Thanks to BASC and Jinu for organizing the trek, and also to all the participants of the trek :) I loved it!! :) Looking forward for more such treks :)
Thank you Sayeesha, Bharath & Jinu for the pictures.