WINTER IN WONDERLAND !! ~~ Camping in the Misty Mountains !

DAUNTING DOWNHILL

The rickety pickup truck puffed its way up the steep mountain road. Excited young voices, from the back of the truck were in sync with the haphazard movement of the vehicle ; rising with speed, laughing in turns and hollering in general ! I was squeezed in the front seat with a lady colleague and carton of mountain oranges for company ! I, of course, was enjoying the novel experience !

I could not identify if the truck was hitting a pothole or was on normal road. The vehicle was lurching on the rain eroded ghat roads, at times careening near the sharp turns. After a point, I started a guessing game with myself – will the vehicle tilt to the right or left now ?! But the local young man, who was driving the pickup truck made no guesses while driving. He seemed to know every inch of the road and steered the loaded vehicle very confidently. The inquisitive villagers along the way waved out to us excitedly, while some waved down the vehicle to have a small chat with the driver, to expressly question him about the details and itinerary of his passengers !

After a good forty minutes drive we spotted the familiar yellow bus, our school bus, which was occupied by the students from earlier jeep & truck trips. A batch of the senior students has braved the steep terrain and long distance to trek two hours to the bus from the camp site ! A quick headcount and excited mini- reunions later (friends separated for a maximum period of two hours !), our school buses started the journey to the commercialized part of the hills.

lake house

A scenic spot in Kodai Lake

Kodai Lake was hosting the tourists, hawkers and locals along its paved banks. Its waters, the main attraction, saw boats of many sizes and types. We split ourselves in groups and went out to explore the lake and its surroundings. While some rented bicycles, some chose to walk along the clean pavements. Walking had its advantages, as we could stop for a spicy freshly roasted corn here, a hot pineapple there or a chilly bajji anywhere ! We leveraged our advantage to quieten our creaking tummies ! The girls in my group enjoyed the sights and sounds as we sauntered in the lake’s circumference !

Some quick shopping for homemade chocolates and fragrant oils later, we boarded the bus for the most difficult part of our journey – the downhill drive ! Avomins became the most sought after commodity followed the ubiquitious plastic bag, in case the avomin is inefficient in keeping the contents of the digestive system inside. For once, even the audio system was shut down ! And, all the occupants of the bus maintained a stoic silence, for fear of offending their respective digestive systems which was threatening to retaliate by propelling its remnants up the esophagus and out of one’s facial cavity ! I will not reveal any specific details of that drive, sparing both the reader and the passenger in the process !

roasted corn

Roasted, spicy corn on the cob !

After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally in the plains. And relieved too ! A hearty lunch and lots of lemon sodas rebooted our systems and the students got back their verve ! From then on all the way to Pondicherry the mood was festive, with the students making up for the quiet time downhill !

The adventurous trip was in its last leg, and I dozed intermittently, for a teacher can never sleep deeply when chaperoning students.

THE PATHFINDERS

The Pathfinder Camp, has been an important event in the annual calendar of  The Study L’ecole Internationale, Pondicherry for a few years now. The Camp Director Dr. Kisku, has been at the forefront in organizing these camps in a purposeful way. While the junior camp, for 3rd to 6th graders, focuses on inculcating self-reliance in the kids, the senior camp, comprising of grades 7 to 12, challenges the students to higher levels of physical endurance through adventure and mental ability through puzzles and games – all in the outdoors of the pristine hills . The learnings in the four days of camping would in effect be equivalent to many weeks of classroom instruction.

PERSISTENCE PAYS

This year’s camp had been overwhelmed by delays ;  the original date in late September clashed with the weekend a court in a neighbouring state chose to convict a famous politician in another neighbouring state. The trip was cancelled due to the ensuing mob violences across the 2 states and 1 UT. The students were disappointed, but soon enough started awaiting new dates for the camp. The second time the camp was planned was in early November. An active NE monsoon was bringing in copious rainfall and landslides in the mountains. The Principal, Mrs. Alice, had to take a call in this and the camp was postponed again. The students were disappointed, but had not lost hope. And their patience was rewarded in the third week of December, when all the campers finally boarded the bus to Kodaikanal one cold early morning ! The 100 students, teachers, staff and drivers were ready for the challenges ahead !

The bus. after a pleasant journey, stopped at a small hill town, Perumal Malai. We jumped out of the bus, due as much from the eagerness to breathe the fresh mountain air, as also to stretch our cramped muscles. And, we did get around two hours to work our restrained muscles and exercise them, in our trek to the base campsite !

A hot homemade lunch awaited us at Kodai Camp, our home for the next four days. The students were given a choice of lodging – dorm, big tents or small tents. Ultimately, the younger ones were accommodated in dorms, while the seniors students took over the tents. The group gathered around the campfire for songs and interactions. The quiet, remote valley resonated with the voices of wonderful children.

calf

A cute calf in the campsite !

TREKKING INTO NATURE’S HEARTLAND

It was 8.30 in the morning and all the campers had assembled to start their trek through the Elephant Valley. The trek leads, guides and teachers/camp counselors made sure their group was suitably equipped with water, snacks, team spirit and adventurous attitude !

A hut in the forest

A lovely hut in the forest ! My dream house !

The mountains and valleys were covered by a thick envelope of mist and fog, giving an alluring aura to the hidden beauty. The visibility was only a few feet at its best in the trail. It was as if one had to tear open the Veil of foggy ignorance to realize the hidden Summit of Truth Within. Nature carries life’s signposts everywhere in Existence.

village woman

A village woman going home with the days rewards.

The city bred kids and adults seemed to find their foothold over the mountain trails pretty quickly. Some fell on pebbly trails, some slided over rock faces, some glided over smooth surfaces and many rested at every opportunity ! Hands were held out to rescue the one’s stuck, bags were carried by the stronger one’s, snacks shared and songs sung ; but silence too reigned intermittently when even the kids were awed by the forest sounds.

Just walking ma'am !

Just walking ma’am ! Really !

Some parts of the slopes were eroded due to the heavy rains, exposing more rocks underneath. The roots and grasses, a trekkers natural hand bars, provided the grip in the steep slippery slopes. I had divided my team of 11 into micro groups of approximately 3’s, thus minimizing the chances of an individual getting lost. Two is a crowd in lonely forests, a desired crowd infact !

slushy trail

Climbing the slippery slope

Our trek started through a spice garden and then running into an orange grove. We picked up the fallen oranges to savour the fresh flavor and aroma ! A steep walk up a paved road brought us to the edge of the wild forest – the profuse animal droppings seemed to be the welcome sign to their natural habitat ! From that point on we were leaving the last signs of civilization and going into unspoilt nature.

lemon grass

Lemon grass fringed trail !

How respectful should one be when one is a guest in another’s home ? Shouldn’t the laws of civilization be applicable to human ventures into the forest too ? The students were told to not leave trash the forest, which they complied with in all sincerity.

We trekked through the forest, under the canopy of tall and short trees. The narrow trails, just a foot or two wide at the maximum, was bordered by wild shrubs, trees and spice plants. It seemed quite dark at places. And the, suddenly the mountain seemed to open her arms to welcome her persistent children !

misty trek

“Are we crossing mountains ?!” Trekking to somewhere in low visibility !

The vista was wide open now. The mist became thicker, the tress had fallen back in the trail and we seemed to be on the steep slopes of the mountain. I say seemed to, because we were not really sure of how steep or how deep the slopes were. At one point it looked like we were crossing from one hill to the next, sometimes it looked like we were circumambulating a mountain. Few instances it looked like we were climbing higher to the very peak of that mountain. We had no way of confirming anything then.

IMG_20141220_111529

“Where are we ?!!”

Our trek guides were with us, helping us navigate the tough terrain. Some places we were wandering alone (in micro groups ofcourse). We stuck to our groups and were guided by the few feet of visibility before us, sometimes just a foot ahead. Lemon grass, a prized herb in the cities, was growing all along the slopes lending fragrance to the air. It provided the only grip in some places.

water falls

The top of the steep falls

In all this adventure, we did time for selfies, pictures, talks and lots of fun. How can one not have fun when surrounded by kids ?!! We were also well past lunch time and snacks were passed around to keep the tummies happy. Every teacher took the utmost care to see her group safe through the trek.

gorge

Gorge receiving the water from the falls

At a point near a falls, all the students converged. The water falls had a steep drop into the gorge below and the view from the top was breathtaking. Our next stop was the river that was the source of this falls. It was a gentle river, with just two feet deep at its centre – a perfect place for splashing in the water ! And this exactly what all the kids did – jumped into the water to wash away all the fatigue due to the six hour trek.

village temple

A quaint village temple covered in mist

The mist was closing in more heavily on the river now, as if telling us that visiting hours were over and the river and the forest need to get their beauty sleep ! We continued our trek out of the forest and onto our campsite through a small village. It was a beautifully adventurous day into Nature’s Heartland, where everyone, including the teacher becomes the taught.

misty river

Misty River !

Hot baths and hot meals soothed our weary bodies, and the kids bounced right back into action after a brief break ! Children are indeed the powerhouse of energy !

TEAM BUILDING

The sun shone a little the next day and we discovered that our campsite was surrounded by huge mountains, in layer after layer ! The mist had hidden this secret the previous two days. Our trek guide traced the trek route we had covered the previous day. From the comfort of our camp, we realized the arduous trek we had accomplished  – straddling a few mountains, forests and valleys ! It was like looking at the x-ray in a doctor’s office through a well lit board ! The sun was shining the spotlight on our trekking path, perhaps as a reward to the endurance of the entire team !

Collage KODAI

Pathfinders in blue – a cool collage !

The day was spent in team building activities designed by a team of resource people in the outdoors – photo scavenging, spotting, nature scavenging, plank walking etc. Each activity required the participation and contribution of each and every child. And making the every child to come out with ideas and involvement was the success. As a testimony to the inclusive nature of the camp, my younger son in 4th grade who accompanied me to the camp, was made part of the teams right at the beginning. The 12th graders heard out his ideas as much as they did a 7th graders.

camp activity

Camping grounds with the mountains as backdrop !

Co-operation, inclusiveness, initiative, team spirit, idea generation, responsibility and other such lofty ideals would remain just that – lofty ideals – if confined to text books or dry sermons by teachers in classrooms. I am by no means undermining the value of the textbook or teachers – I have utmost regard for both. But it is only in a sports ground or in the wilderness that a child can get the time and space to practice first hand and make these lofty ideals a habit, a recurring habit. I am a staunch believer in this. I am fortunate to be working in an institution that too believes and practices this.

hula hoop

Hula Hoopers !

SPECIAL MENTIONS

A special mention about our super seniors, the 12th graders, where the ‘super’ is not just a category name but an adjective to those seniors. They took their juniors under their wings, looked out for them, helped them out in difficult tasks, and coordinated with their teachers and other resource people to make this camp a success ! They were an inspiration to their juniors too, my kids still bring in the name of their senior annas and akkas when discussing the camp.

tandem plank

Tandem Bridge ! The seniors leading from the front and guiding from the rear too. The juniors learning team spirit !

It is wrong to stereotype an entire generation as irresponsible or brash or brand them with other such adjectives. Sometimes we have to trust them and give them a free hand to let them experience their goodness and potential. And the perfect setting to initiate this would be away from the classroom or even home, as the classroom dynamics sometimes comes too loaded with pre-conceived baggage.

campfire

Stories by the camp fire ! Pic courtesy : The Study

Sending out fit and responsible citizens out into the world is the responsibility of every parent, teacher, school and college. I am sure that these students will definitely Be the Change in the place and time they live.

Tha cubed !

‘Tha’ cubed 🙂

My colleagues, camp director, the resource people, the campsite owners, their staff, the students – everyone contributed to make this camp a true ‘Winter in Wonderland’ !!

ADIEUS !

It was past midnight when we reached back to school. The eager parents were happy to get back with their kids. Teachers and students were bidding adieus with a heavy heart, for the bond had grown in the four adventurous days.

tree swing

Cheered by the students to try this very long roped tyre swing ! An exhilarating experience !

~Punitha Lakshmi

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Kumbakarai-Vellagavi-Kodaikanal :A trek,a village & a peek into a natural lifestyle

I could see a very faint reflection of myself in the water. I tried to lean forward to get a better feel of the depth, but the surface was slippery. I stood still and let the coolness of the water to travel up to me. A voice behind called out in tamil ‘paathu ma’ (be careful).

Self Reflection...

Self Reflection…

The village well, was the place for socializing for the villagers of this mountain retreat ! Womenfolk exchanged notes on the happenings and discussed issues that concerned the village. This well, which was a steep 15 minutes walk from the living space of the village, was drying up due to the failed monsoon of 2012, and people had to walk further down a steep path for drinking water from a spring. They were hoping the well would be de-silted, cleaned and ready to receive this year’s monsoon rain.

For urbanites, who hardly know the source of their daily water and become impatient if the water from tap flows slowly, the effort expended by villagers to get one drop of water must be astonishing.

Well-a-gavi !

Well-a-gavi !

This charming village, Vellagavi, deep in the mountains of the Palani Hills, is 500 years old. One had to trek a steep path to reach here, and that’s what we, a group of CTCians had done that morning – trekking from Kumbakarai falls to here, with 2 litres of water each. Even while sweating profusely in the hot & dry day, we had to think before we took a sip, because the stream had dried up for the summer and we would be dehydrated if we finished our water too early in the trek. This made me appreciate the sources of water even more.

A village woman expertly slid her plastic bucket tied to the end of a rope, into the well and smoothly lifted the filled bucket up. She did this multiple times, to fill a single pot. No wonder their arms are toned ! Another woman came by and asked me to come further down to fill water in our bottles.

The spring is hidden somewhere in the mountains and a pipe has been drilled into a rock to channel the water for filling vessels. It was pure, sweet water and I drank it to my hearts content ! While the pots were filling, the lady and me chatted about our respective lifestyles ! She said they truly believed the well & spring are a gift from their village diety, for their benefit. Their life depended on it.

Bipasha, Pankaja & myself walked back up to the village and she and her daughter Vani balanced the pots deftly on their heads while climbing up the steps. Me and my friends were unbalanced with our 2 bottles each !!

A daily task in their life...

A daily task in their life…

We had reached the village that afternoon after a 6 hr trek, and just lazed around. A few from our group had gone to the temple at the peak and 3 of us had decided to stay back. I wanted to mingle with the villagers and go around the place.

Muthukumaran and his family were our hosts. He narrated the history of the village, as he knew it. Long ago, some king and his men were hiding in the forest to escape enemies. Long after the war was over, 5 men came back to this Vellagavi, married local women and settled in this village. ‘Gavi’ means valley. The 500 residents in the 120 houses here, were all descended from these 5 families.

The people here consider their village sacred, so much so, that no one wears footwear inside the village. We had removed our shoes at the village entrance after reading a board which requests visitors the same. It was actually nice walking in the rocky paths barefoot. Acupuncture for free !

Our hostess gave us another cup of the steaming, strong black coffee, laced with a hint of sweetness. It was refreshing ! We were seated in the ‘thinnai’, sit-out at the entrance of a house, and he continued his notes on the village.  His house was part of a row-houses, sharing walls. All the houses in one row were occupied by immediate relatives, and it could well be considered a single house for all practical purposes. Each family owned some farm land, where they grew coffee beans, cardomam, oranges, mangoes etc. I listened to all this sipping the aromatic coffee, made from freshest beans from their farm !

With our hosts..in their thinnai (sit-out}...

With our hosts…in their thinnai (sit-out}…

His little daughter was involving us in a game of ‘matching colours’ with broken bangles. Ocourse, she won hands down every time !

It was sunset time and all the children were out improvising games and playing happily. No gadgets or toys, just natural things to keep them entertained ! A few tiny tots were packing leaves into a bundle and tying it to a stick – akin to a mule carrying load ! They did not seem to miss anything ! Happy kids !

Kids playing in the village street

Kids playing in the village street

Our friends came back after their short trek and we got down to the business of cooking. Well, CTCian Vadivel, our expert chef did the cooking while we ladies, Nivya, Aishwarya, Sasi & myself,  ‘ably’ assisted him ! Bissibelabath was the dish of the day, after the soup ! We had laid siege to our hosts kitchen and flooded it with our cooking stuff ! They were very accommodating, helpful and even cheering us !!

My friend from the well, came over to take me to her house for a cup of coffee ! I had to stop my friends (the mother-daughter duo) from feeding me dinner too ! Such was their hospitality ! They have even invited me to their elder daughter’s wedding in Palani next month !

It had begun to rain heavily. Our group assembled for a late night dinner, or rather we had to wake some of them up for dinner as they had fallen asleep overcome by tiredness. The bisibelabath awoke them fully !

We just spread a tarp in the single large hall of the village house we had rented and slept . Some of them took their sleeping bags to the terrace or verandah.

It was a cold night and with just a thin bedsheet I was happily sleeping, the events of the day doing a rerun in my mind !

The overnight bus journey from Tindivanam, the midnight dinner somewhere in between, the early morning tea in Periyakulam, the car chase by Vadivel & Praveena’s husband to get the forgotten tarp from the bus, the share-auto short ride to Kumbakarai falls along a scenic way – a thrilling start to two days of learning & fun ! The slide in the sliding pool at Kumbakarai falls was the ice-breaker for the group as we the swimmers like Nithya & Lavanya helped the non-swimmers to slide & have fun ! The breakfast carried out by Murali & Vadivel at the start of the trail gave a boost to our energy they had arranged with our host in the village for 2 mules to carry the food provisions and some extra stuff that we needed the next day. Still we were left with lot of weight to carry in our backpacks, the majority of that being the weight of water. If anyone does not know about hydraulic power, they should just carry a few litres of water in a steep ascent ! The weather was dry and hot when we started the climb, but nature benevolently turned cool which prevented any dehydration in our group. Vallabh’s stretching exercises mid-way helped in avoiding major cramps.

Durai & Vadivel had originally explored this route and we were benefitting from their knowledge of this trail and the village. This trek was long overdue and I had waited for a year to come here. When Nivya & me were thinking of organizing a ladies trek, we both were unanimous in our choice of the location – Kumbakarai to Kodaikanal !! Thanks to all who made this excellent trek possible !

The next day, very early in the morning, Aishwarya, Nivya & myself walked down to the well for refreshing. There are no toilets in this village and one has to depend on natural space for one’s morning ablutions.

More of our friends came down to the spring. The village ladies give water freely, unmindful of the hardships they undergo to get a pot of water. They helpedus in filling our bottles and infact tell us to take from their homes as they say we are notused to wells and springs !

A generous village lady giving us water...

A generous village lady giving us water…

The village was up and about early and there were geometric kolams and rangolis outside every house. It being Varuda Pirappu (Tamil new year), people were buzzing around, children wore new dresses and the elders were getting ready to visit the temple. A woman invited me home for some coffee and I clicked some pictures of her grand-daughter Mareshwari in new clothes. The little one posed merrily !

Kolam on Varuda Pirappu...

Kolam on Varuda Pirappu…

Next we got down to the very important business of making tea & breakfast ! Nivya & me had decided on black tea, but after overwhelming request for milk tea, it was converted into white tea with milk powder that we had brought ! There are no cows in Vellagavi and milk is a premium here. People bring back some milk when they go downhill to Periyakulam.

Morning tea !

Morning tea !

After being sufficiently fortified by tea & noodles, we packed our bags, did some stretches as demonstrated by Vallabh and got ready to leave. I interacted with a few more villagers and clicked a few pictures. We bade our goodbyes and my well friend came running to give me some Sita fruit. Such unsophisticated generosity really warms the heart. She had already gifted me a small pack of coffee powder and a few pods of cardomam, even though I had refused strictly. It was her way of extending a warm welcome. Vallagavi keeps  its doors of hospitality open always, much like the cuture of ancient India…

Doors of hospitality...

Doors of hospitality…

At the entrance of the village a bunch of kids were creating rhythms in odd plastic and steel containers using fallen sticks from the trees. It was such raw and natural rhythms that it left us spell-bound ! Nature is the best teacher for these kids, many of whom may not even complete their schooling.

Aala marathadi kadhaigal.... ! Tales under a banyan tree... ! Relaxed childhood...

Aala marathadi kadhaigal…. !
Tales under a banyan tree… ! Relaxed childhood…

Some of the villagers too had already left/on their way to the ‘sandhai’ (weekly fair) in Kodaikanal, to purchase things for their homes/village for the coming week. They also carried produce from their gardens to be sold at the fair. Maybe some bartering also might take place. And ya, the only mode of transport from Vellagavi to Kodaikanal (or Periyakulam) is by foot. All along the route we met many villagers returning from the fair with heavy loads on their heads, but walking as if they were carrying feathers ! A lady had simply placed her child in a big cloth, held two ends of it in her hand and walked along the steep trail ! The baby slept peacefully, rocked by its mother’s smooth walk !

Returning from the weekly sandhai (fair)

Returning from the weekly sandhai (fair)

The only sounds were the sounds of the birds. There was one particular bird, I think locally called as ‘kottu kuruvi’ , which had a clear voice and sang melodiously, its voice making one to stop and listen ! The other sounds were the rustling of dry leaves under our foot as walked, and the breeze blowing through the trees !

We clicked pictures of the beautiful mountains all along the trek. We all regrouped at Echo Point, the farthest a ‘tourist’ from Kodai would venture ! This point was just a speck in a ‘traveller’s’ journey !

We were famished and the ready to eat panner sanjis that we had carried along were put to good use in a scenic eatery there, as we taught the cook to make bread-paneer-kurma instantly ! He might have been glad when we finally exited his stall,exhausting the sabjis after multiple rounds, washed down with his masala chai. We were running off for in between to pose for group pictures and he had to call out to us to come and eat !! Finally we made our official intros (CTC intros are always at the end, by which everyone are already friends !).

Next up was the dolphin’s nose, an elliptical rock jutting out to the open space. After some dramatic pictures there, we began our final stretch of trek to Vattakanal, the entry way to Kodai town.  More beauty of this place unfolded on our path. Much of this 1 km trek from Dolphin’s nose to Vattakanal is paved by strong roots from trees, interlocked naturally and forming a neat ramp ! Nature knows the way !!

Roots show the way forward....

Roots show the way forward….

A van ride from Vattakanal to Kodai bus stand, picking up some home-made chocolates enroute, chai and then we started our return journey ! The nausea created by the steep descent of the bus in the ghat road, left me wishing that we could have trekked down easily !

We, a bunch of CTCians met as strangers and parted as friends, helping each other to accomplish a tough trek during the weekend, and learning a lot from one another in the process !

The Ladies !

The Ladies !

I have been to Kodaikanal a few times, but going by foot, avoiding all the ‘tourist spots’ gave us a better perspective of life in these hills.

Pic courtesy : Biasha

Thumbs up group !

All that we take for granted in cities, is not easily available in Vellagavi ! All that is available in Vellagavi is what urbanites rush to during vacations – fresh, unpolluted air, pure water, cool clime, natural housing, disconnected from the rest of the world ! They are indeed on permanent vacation !!

A radiant sunset over a village temple...

A radiant sunset over a village temple…

I will be taking my kids (and other willing kids) back to this village at the earliest opportunity, so that they can also perceive that a happy life is possible beyond all known comforts – mentally & physically. The sooner we learn this, the freer our minds become and the better our lives unfold.

Perhaps, when I peered into that well, I was seeing the reflection of a natural lifestyle, forgotten by majority of the world, and still preserved in places like this.

~Punitha Lakshmi

Happy Campers Speak !! – Kids Trek @ Nagala

Happy Campers ! Charting their trail !!

Write up by Abhimanyu (8 + years) !

Abhi enjoying the cool pool @ Nagala !

Kids Trek at Nagala !

I like the trip very much. It was a wonderful experience.

I woke up at 5.00. I went to Chennai to my Thatha’s house. Then from there I went to Nagala in car. When we reached there, we played some games. Then I went to sleep at 12.30 a.m.

I woke up and brushed my teeth with neem sticks. Then I played for little time, then I climbed very little to watch the lake. Then I got down and had boost with chocos !! Then they gave me cap, lollipop and jelly ! Then my mummy gave us swimming tubes and life jackets. After that we started the trek.

It was so adventurous. I walked so much distance. In half the way we stopped in the stream and took rest. Then we started walking to second pool. All the uncles and aunts helped us .

When I reached the second pool, I gone to swim for a long time ! Then they called us to eat noodles. After I ate I went to swim again ! Then I ate my lunch.

Then we climbed down the mountain and came down. We took group photos. Then I had gone to Chennai again.

I enjoyed the trip very much. I made lots of new friends. The forest was so green !

Abhimanyu

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Write-up by Rahul (6 + years)  !

Rahul enjoys the pool !

Happy Camper !

I was very happy !

I enjoy to swim.

I enjoy climbing rocks.

I, my mummy and my brother enjoyed the camp.

I ate noodles and lollipop.

I got new friends.

I was very happy to come to the camp !

Rahul

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Charged trekkers ! Fresh even after a day of trekking !!

Interpreters of A Dream – 3G Frequency Variance !!!


The following scene took place in our home @ 5.30 am one morning… a few weeks ago…

Puni : (Lazily sipping coffee & talking to kids): Kutties I had a dream last night ! I was in a beautiful forest with lots of trees and rivers. There were some snakes around me !

(The half-sleepy kids perked up their ears & excitedly started a volley of questions !!)

Kids :

Abhi : How many snakes ma ?

Rahul : What colour ? Were you scared ?

Abhi : How many metres long ?

Rahul : Did it raise its hood and hiss ?

Abhi : Was it cobra or python ?

Rahul : I will catch it like Chotta Bheem does !

Puni : whoa… whoa… kiddos… too many questions !! Well…. the snakes were…

(My mom overhears our conversation & does not allow me to finish the sentence… she rattles off her opinion seriously !)

Grandma K : Punitha, I think it is some dosham. We need to go to some nagalinga temple & pray & offer milk to snakes.

Puni : Hayyo… Ammaaa… plzzz nooo… don’t try to put me thru’ that ‘dosham’ circuit again !! You know it doesn’t help me ! No milk, silk etc !!

Kids :

Rahul : Mommy, we will give coke or maaza for snake ! (Bcos he is trying to dodge drinking his morning milk and instead dreaming of some cold drink !!)

Abhi : Rahulllll…. snakes can’t drink all that da !!

Rahul : Snakes can drink maaza ! Right ma ??

Abhi : No, it can’t ! (Continues sarcastically) You don’t even have science subject da… only EVS ! I have a separate science book… so I know better… ha ha ;)))

3 G Frequency - Abhi the Scientist conducts Viva Voce for the Snake ! Mom helps him !!


(Before Rahul could think of a retort, Grandma restarts her agenda !) 

Grandma K : We should go to Kalahasthi. Last time we visited Tirupati we did not go there. That is the place for naga doshams.


Now that Abhi has firmly established that Rahul is an outsider to ‘real science’, he continues to build up his superiority !!) 

Abhi : Rahul, do you know that snakes do not have ears outside their body ?

Rahul : tchchk…. how can that be ? Snakes have ears !!

Abhi : Poda… you dont know any science !

Rahul : I KNOW SCIENCE !! I’ll catch a snake and show you its ears !

3 G Frequency - Rahul the Brave catching a snake valiantly and shows off to Mommy !!

(My mom tries again !)

Grandma K : Was the snake’s hood in raised position ? Atleast you go to some local temple today.

1 G Frequency - Grandma K dreams of taking away all doshams !!

(Watching with amusement the animated opinions of her kids & mom, Puni regrets telling out her dream ! She has not even completed describing her dream, but scores of opinions are already floating around !!)

Raising her voice to be heard above the three…

Puni : Wait wait people… let me complete the description ! I was playing in a river in a forest, lots of trees & birds. A few snakes were sliding on the ground, some were hanging from trees !! The weather was cool and only the sound of the breeze, birds & river was heard ! It was like heaven !!

(Addressing her kids) Abhi, we will do a complete read-up on snakes, ok ?! Rahul, we will go to a zoo and see snakes, deal ?! Amma. NO, I’m not going to feed milk in temple. I think this dream is a call from nature for me to go trekking & camping in a forest soooon !! Even if I have to pay obeisance to snakes, I’ll do it in a forest in its natural abode than in a temple !

2 G Frequency - Puni the Nature Lover sings in the River and is @ Home in the Forest !!

(Puni finishes her long monologue in the gap she found and spells her decision emphatically !!)

Grandma K : One more trek ???? No. Go to temple.

Kids : I’ll also come to the forest !

Puni : Only trekking in forest !! Time to go on a TREK & sleep under the stars !!!

Kids continue their one-upmanship dialogues and also plan to go to a forest with Mommy !

Grandma goes to Pooja shelf to search for some sloka to safeguard against snakes !

Puni rushes off to check out the upcoming treks in CTC ;)) !!!

Peace reigns again !!

This happened few weeks back !

3G Frequency variance – 3 Generations interpreting a dream in 3 (or 4 !) different ways !!

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Forward to the present :

Fortunately, a CTC kids trek (with parent) is coming up this weekend and me & my kids are gearing up for that !! So, this weekend, its time to walk in the forest, jump in the pools, sleep on rocks under the stars… and yeah, pay my respects to the venerable snake !!!

I believe now that dreams do come true !!!! So I’ll continue dreaming !!!

Happy weekend folks !! ‘Citi’zens, stay safe in the cities ;))

~ Punitha


A Peacock’s Prom ! – My Rendezvous with Nature

A cloudy morning, a beautiful park, a lovely Karanji Lake, Mysore…

the harbinger of rain, the fascinating peacock, spreads its stunning feathers to welcome the rain !

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‘My Rendezvous with Nature’ is a video/audio series showcasing the magnificent play of Nature – its sights and sounds.

Beautiful moments which I am blessed enough to witness and lucky enough to have a camera handy to capture and share the wonder with others.

~~Punitha

Amazing Auroville Marathon 2011

I raced my scooty on the deserted 100 feet road. The air was extremely chill and my scarf failed to protect my ears. I drove towards the designated pick-up point, parked my vehicle and got into the school bus which was the transportation that would take me to the venue. I watched in wonder the different shades of the dawn sky that changed every few seconds  on the East Coast Road. My co-passengers were chatting away and exchanging info.

The bus turned into the road leading to Auroville. It is an experimental township based on the teachings of Aurobindo & Mother. It is around 10 kms from Pondy town and around 8 kms from Pondicherry Engineering College. Auroville was conceived as an Universal city and is based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo & Mother. It was started in 1968 and currently has around 2500 permanent residents from around 40 countries.

As the bus neared the Visitor’s Center of Auroville, I could hear music and cheering. The place was abuzz with people. I handed over my handbag over at the luggage tent and joined the crowd.

People were stretching out their muscles to fast music ! We were getting ready for the Auroville Marathon 2011. This was the 4th edition of the event started in 2008 to commemorate the 40th year of the founding of Auroville.

I had signed up for the 10 K run. The full and half marathoners had already started off on their races at 5 & 6 in the morning respectively. We must have been around 500 people at the start line. The mood was ecstatic and we were rearing to go. One of the volunteers led us off from the start line.

In the beginning people were almost tripping over one another, due to enthusiasm and energy ! But pretty soon the crowd spread out and each one was finding his or her own pace. The sun was just rising and the air was clean and fresh.

The Auroville Marathon is a Trail marathon. It is one of the best nature trail marathons in India. The marathon route is entirely though the Auroville forest on forest trails and dirt roads. It runs through sporadically placed residences and other cottage industries like jewellery making and decorative metal workshops.

Auroville marathon forest trail...

I had done no particular training nor followed a strict training schedule for this marathon. I walk in the beach for 3 or 4 days a week and thats about it ! But I had tried to increase my jogging duration and reduce the walking span for a month, though not entirely successful with this plan.

I had not set a stipulated finishing time for myself in this marathon. I knew this was a nature trail and had decided to enjoy walking though this forest and reach the finishing line on my own two feet instead of being carried on a stretcher ! This was my game plan for the marathon !! Pretty good plan, right 😉 ??!!

At the start of the race, my enthusiasm coupled with the energy of the scores of my co-runners at the start line had given me the momentum to run the first 2 kms with ease ! I sighted the golden globe-Matri Mandir-shining enroute. Matri Mandir is a meditation area and is called ‘The Soul of Auroville’. The entire township radiates from this centre point architecturally and spiritually.

Matri Mandir...

There was a band of local musicians playing just percussions. The beats were lively and energetic, the intention of which, I suspect, was to make the marathoners to rev up their gears and propel forward ! This raw music blended well with the environs and did not seem out of place or loud and garish.

After I noticed the 2 km mark , I was on the lookout for the ‘aid stations’ that were promised at every 3 kms. I still had a km to go to earn my few sips of water ! I slowed down to conserve energy and to click pictures. It was a beautiful morning and I could see the sun’s rays trickling in through the trees and foliage.

Atlast I reached the first aid station. It was well staffed and stocked with water, electrolytes, lemon juice, biscuits, bananas and peanut chiklis. There was also a manned first aid table. The volunteers handed these out and some runners who were time conscious grabbed these on the go, while some like me took this as an opportunity to rest for a minute or two !

The organizers of the Auroville marathon do not go in for corporate sponsors and depend on volunteers and the registration fee of Rs. 300 per person. Inspite of this, it was an extremely well organized and well manned event.

Deeper into the trail, we ran into runners of the full marathon and half marathon as we crossed paths at some points in our respective routes. The different coloured bibs made the identification easy.

As the marathon progressed, the forest thickened and the crowd thinned. At some stretches, I was alone with nature. The silence of the trees was interspersed with the call of the birds and the buzz of the insects. The sunlight bathed the vibrant red sand in a stream of golden light. It was magical.

Vibrant Red Earth bathed in Golden Sunlight !

Some runners had come as a contingent from different parts of India – Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Kolkata, etc. There were some people from other countries, probably visiting India and enjoying a forest run while here. Ofcourse there were some Pondicherrians too.

Some were in groups and some had brought along their families and friends to cheer them. I had come alone. No one (yet) knew that I was running my first marathon today. A few of my co-runners spoke a word or two with me on the run. Some jogged a few metres with me. But mostly I ran at my own pace, alone. A Marathon is probably a microcosm of one’s life.

The Auroville forest is made of blazing red earth. It is a tropical dry evergreen forest. Bougenvillas of different hues like tints of pink, white, yellow, etc hang from the walls of the eco houses. Senthoora poo, cashew nut trees, badam trees, palm trees, casaurina trees and lots of thorny bushes provided cover from the sun.

Residents of Auroville and the nearby village of Kuyilapalayam and other hamlets around Auroville were out doing their daily chores; vending in bicycles, travelling in bikes, tending to a garden, feeding a cow or playing with a dog ! A few were having a picnic breakfast and waving at the marathoners. Volunteers in bicycles cycled by and motivated us in the last 1 km.

I was enjoying my walk/run and did not really feel the exhaustion. The environment was much too beautiful for me to think of my body’s tiredness right then. I had not really trained for my first marathon. So I did not really know whether I would complete the full distance.

Alas, I could hear the beats of the rustic drums again. Perhaps I was closer to my destination !

forest rhythms...

Sure enough a volunteer at the next turn called out that I had just about 300-400 metres to the finish line. On hearing this, I slowed down (not that I was sprinting at Usain Bolt’s speed at any point during my marathon !!) ! I took a few pictures and just savoured the moment. Even though I have visited Auroville many times in the past, these parts of the township are not normally in the visitor’s circuit. Walking is the best way to get intimate with a place and truly understand the spirit of any city or place.

I checked my watch for the first time during the run and the needles indicated 8.30 a.m. I had taken 90 minutes to cover 10 K (well, 300 m short of that). After a few minutes I resumed my run and just around the corner a huge crowd had gathered to applaud those who had successfully completed the marathon.

There was big cheering at the ‘Start Line’. There was a huge crowd at the ‘Finish Line’. But the run was done alone. A cheer crowd waved out from here and there. Yes, Marathon is a Microcosm of Life !

The ‘Start Line’ and ‘Finish Line’ are common for all categories of marathons (Full, Half, 10K, 5K), though the lengths travelled and routes taken are different. Yes, ‘Start Lines’ and ‘Finish Lines’ are great Levellers. Just as Birth and Death are indeed Great Levellers. Yes, Marathon is a Microcosm of Life !

The Leveller...

I crossed the finish line and collected my T-Shirt – a reward for successfully completing my run. There was a long line of people waiting for a hot and sumptuous breakfast of Pongal, vadai, chutney, sambhar and coffee ! Aah, the 10 kms run was indeed worth it ! Half-marathoners were easily identified by the bigger servings on their plates ! Well, the full marathoners would probably dive into the utensils directly given their state of hunger and exhaustion after running 42 kms !

I had not checked my clock thoughout my run. Duing the very last leg, I checked my watch when I was 300 metes from the finish line. It was 8.30 a.m , exactly 1.5 hrs since I started. And this was the timing I told my friend. But the electronic timing certificate e-mailed by the organizers yesterday show my run timing as 1 hr & 42 mins ! Well, I had failed to take into account the bonus minutes I had used for enjoying the very last leg of my journey. We think we have completed our duration/distance when a few extra months or metres are thrown our way ! Aah, these marathons !

I’m hooked on to running now ! Well, right this moment all I’m hooked on to is Volini !! With my adventurous spirit soaring I could well be on my way to become Volini’s Brand Ambassadress !! Nope my friends, the mention of the above name is not a ‘product placement strategy’ ; it is but a cautious effort to avoid any ‘knee re-placement surgery’ in the distant future !!

I’m very thankful for the wonderful opportunity and experience.

~Punitha