Missing in Action – Sadya to Superfast !

I was flying down the stairs…. A green flag swaying a few feet below… A trumpet like sound blowing from a distance… And me waving my hand enthusiastically at the flag… I felt like a Maniratnam movie heroine in the climax of a romcom movie…
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No this is not a dream sequence from a movie… These were the thrilling moments from my day today.
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This is how the scene unfolded. Just an hour earlier before this scene, I was enjoying a nice Sadya, A Kerala feast, for lunch. My friend Sitara’s mother, Bhavani Aunty, had arranged a tasty spread, in the traditional manner.
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The Lunch

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Sitara and me after a quick shopping session, sat down the kids for the treat. All of us had devised individual customized algorithms to maximize the sadya experience. I for example started with ada pradaman, and ended with the same, and punctuated every dish like pulichery, olan and erichery with ada pradaman payasams ! The kids scooped the payasam in the poli and devoured it.
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The ticking of the clock in the dining hall was the reminder that we cannot be sitting in an endless loop of the sadya ; we had a train to catch !! We somehow halfheartedly got away from the table.
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Sadya !

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The dear friends, Abhimanyu-Tharan & Rahul-Ananth tried to play till the last minute. That was their way of saying goodbye.
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We were ready, but the driver was missing ! My friend called him and he said he was on his way. Probably he too was having a great lunch ! At long last he came, and we had about 15 minutes to catch the train. He raced through the streets of Trivandrum, and we literally jumped out of the car at the station. Two porters chatting casually and having a leisurely afternoon, were pressed into active mode with our arrival. I said we had 2 minutes to get on our train, and told them the train name. They seemed to accept the challenge ! My kids and me sprinted across the platforms and impatiently walked up the moving escalator and ran across the over bridge. We were following the racing porters blindly, as I had no clue as to which platform we were to board. As we were crossing the bridge, they slowed down. I was puzzled. They simply said ‘train poiyee’. I refused to believe and thought that according to IST, there were another 10 minutes for the train to leave. But they pointed a moving train to me. It was just starting and I was hoping to catch it. I motivated them that we can and my kids ran ahead trying to stop the train.
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This is the place where the first scene falls in place. As I was waving out frantically to the guard holding the green flag, he looked at me and I shouted stop. My voice would not have reached him definitely.
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Did I say earlier that I felt like a Maniratnam heroine in a climax scene ??!!  Well, that was when I felt hopeful of catching the train. Now I actually felt like Kamal Haasan in ‘Moondram Pirai’ movie climax waving out to an unacknowledging Sridevi in the train 😦 ;(.
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The train kept moving and I believed I could still board the train. Then the train disappeared. The Jan Shatabdi from Trivandrum to Trichur had left platform no:4 at 2.20 p.m, On Time.
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We came to a standstill – the kids, me, porters et al. The other people on the platform too, as they tried to understand our plight. The porters set our luggage down, and a small crowd had gathered around us. I decided not to shed any tear. But I felt lost.
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The people there assumed I understood Malayalam and spoke rapidly asking about our problem; I assumed that they could understand my Malayalam and spoke quickly asking if there was anyway to stop the train or what the next station was. I was surprised by how well I could speak Malayalam, in that panic mode !!
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Somebody said that a Chennai express was departing in 39 minutes. Somebody else said that Nizamuddin Super fast will be starting in another 10 minutes, from the same platform. They offered suggestions to cancel the previous, buy a new ticket, talk to TTE etc etc. My kids were suggesting that we should probably go back to their friends’ grandma’s home, as they can continue playing 😉
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Kids Playing

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I made a quick decision. I decided to try the Nizamuddin. I asked the porters for the charge, and they simply said that they will load our luggage in the new train first, and did not say anything about the money. The train arrived soon enough.
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A couple of people helped us find the AC coach and the porters found empty seats and arranged our luggage. Somebody said that I could convert the previous ticket to this train, but the porters said that it is better to get open general tickets. Seeing that I was travelling with 2 kids and few luggages, they offered to go and buy the tickets. I gave him the money and he got 3 sleeper class tickets.
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I sat down, gingerly, as I was not sure if the TTE would allow us to travel in this compartment. But the kids were already playing live snakes and ladders by climbing up and down the berths !  I noticed the many missed calls from Sitara, who was anxious about whether we were able to board the train, Jan Shatabdi that is. Bhavani aunty too was anxious it seems, probably thinking we spent too much time eating ! But traditional authentic food deserves time, even if it means missing trains 😉
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When the TTE came, I showed him both the tickets, and I had to pay the balance fare (SL to AC).
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We had upgraded ourselves from chair to berth, and express to superfast – albeit at a cost. Experiences like these help us to realize that some strangers are still helpful, that labourers go the extra mile in helping customers, friends care, and, that one can have a feast and still catch a super fast 😉
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Hues of Green - from the train window !

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I am relaxing in my seat now, enjoying the varied hues of green that Kerala covers itself with 🙂
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~Punitha Lakshmi

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A Growth Story – of Child & Mother !

The summer of 2012. The cusp of April showers & May flowers !

I was enjoying the ride in the scenic route. The Coimbatore-Velliangiri route was scenic and the weather cool.  I was driving the car and would have been super excited normally… but now I was a little pensive too.

I had enrolled my son Abhimanyu in a 5-day Nature Awareness camp at Isha Ashram, Velliangiri. He was all of 8 yrs and was going away on a camp alone ! It was me who motivated him to join the camp, registered, packed, prepared etc… But now I was having doubts. I tried to hide my worries and was trying to pep up Abhi who was sitting beside me silently, a little thoughtful too.  He was not very happy to be away from home for 5 days in an unknown place, with strangers. Though he was excited a month back while deciding, he was also worried now.

I tried to cheer  the situation by singing songs and telling Abhi how great a time he is going to have. How his little brother is too tiny to be accepted for such camps,, and that Abhi is truly the big boy now ! This seemed to bring a little smile to Abhi. Ofcourse Rahul was not happy that he was being used as a pawn in my earnestness to cheer up Abhi 😉

Abhi clicks - his trekking route

Abhi clicks – his trekking route

I thought to myself of the time when I was in standard 4th in school. My class was being taken on a day trip to nearby Mahabalipuram, a trip of just a few hours from Pondy. My dad had flatly refused to send me, fearing that –  I’ll drown in the beach / lose my way / be kidnapped, or all of the above !! It took me a long time (many years) to convince my father that none of the above would happen to me on  a trip ! But each time it was a struggle to get permission for trips ! But that did not deter me from trying and going on fun trips in school, college & for chess tournaments 🙂

But forward to the present, and here I am, sending away my little 4th grader to a camp – for 5 days !! A camp where I will not even be able to talk to him on phone ! How much more cool can a mom get ??!! 😉

My other family members were not too happy with me sending Abhimanyu to a camp. But, I was firm. I did not want my child to be timid like me, it has been a continuous hard struggle out of this timidness for me. I wanted him to be brave, to live upto his name – Abhimanyu !

I tried to look cheerful & positive about the whole thing. We were now turning into more secluded roads while nearing our destination. Now, I too became quite and little jittery.  We entered Isha ashram and after the formalities it was time to let go, as parents were not allowed to go beyond a certain point. I hugged him and tears started flowing in my eyes.

Suddenly Abhi says : “Amma, don’t cry. Its going to be only 5 days. I’ll ask them permission and call you.”

I smiled at him and thought “That was supposed to be my parting dialogue, and this little guy has stolen my words !!” All I could do was hug and kiss him .

I drove back in silence. Even Rahul’s incessant chit-chat could not elicit a reply from me.

Abhi clicks - trekking with his camp friends !

Abhi clicks – trekking with his camp friends !

The 5 days seemed to move very slowly. I spent the time with my second kid, brother, cousins, nieces etc. We explored Coimbatore, Pollachi & the beautiful Anamalai hills. We spent most of the time soaked in rivers ! Pleasant weather, wonderful people, good food, stunning locations, fun times – yet something was missing.

I tried to call the Isha office, and everytime they said that all kids are fine, do not worry. Once I got the info that the campers have gone to Nilgiris for trekking & camping. My heart skipped a beat. Nilgiris is too vast an area, and I had no clue to which part of the hills they have gone. I was not sure how Abhi would cope with the trekking and camping there .

Abhi had gone on 3 day camps from his school for the last 2 years. The consolation in those camps were that, it was hardly 100 kms away from home, with his dear friends, caring teachers, known people, delicious familiar food, in an absolutely safe place and 2 way communication open with mom – though it cannot be overused. All these previous camps & treks had familiarised him with camp life.

But this Isha camp was different ; unknown people, unknown itinerary, no friends while entering the camp, different food habits and absolutely no contact with mom ! How is my baby going to get through this ?!

Abhi clicks - stream crossing !

Abhi clicks – stream crossing !

I have been taking my kids on a few mini treks and couple of full day treks. They had just glided on the trails with ease and had enjoyed it immensely. So I was confident that Abhi would be able to trek decent trails. I also had faith in Isha to choose activities with safety in mind.

Then why was I worried. Well, blame Motherhood !

The last day of the camp arrived, draggingly in my opinion ! But I arrived at the Isha Ashram in lightning speed, so it seemed to me !

Abhi was dancing with his friends ; ya, the shy Abhi dancing happily to a beautifully rhythmic folksy tune !! Though he tried to become a spectator now and then, his new friends and teachers in the camp were pulling him into the dance floor. It was a heart warming sight to see all the kids dance happily with a permanent smile over their lips !

Abhi saw me & Rahul and ran to us ! Before I could hug him, he was called by his friends.

There were parting hugs and goodbyes and Abhi took me to his dorm to show his abode of 5 days ! It was a spartan hall on the first floor with bunk beds, a few shelves and lots of space for the kids ! The bathrooms were down the hall. It was airy and lots of sunlight came in.

Abhi was telling me about his camp life – early morning wake ups, standing in line for the bathrooms, sharing things, getting ready, yoga, food etc. He tried to tell the experiences of 5 days in 5 minutes ! He had packed his bags all by himself and showed it to me proudly ! I listened to his banter happily ! For once Rahul also was spell bound and listened quietly.

I was looking at this apparently grown up boy and wondered where my little boy was – my careless, home-sick, babyish mom’s boy ! He seemed to have metamorphosed into this self-sufficient, courageous, outgoing big boy ! I was happy at this transformation and was proud of him ! I was proud of myself too for being brave enough to send him to this camp !

Well, my illusion was broken quickly ! Rahul was teasing and pulling Abhi into brotherly ‘games’ ! Abhi appealed to me “Amma, look at Rahul… he is fighting with me !”. Well, All izz Well & Normal after all 😉 !!

We walked back to the car with his luggage and as we were loading the bags, Abhi quickly pulled out a book from his bag. After we were seated he showed me the album of his camp memories, which the organizers had beautifully put together. He turned to the first page and pointed very proudly to a photograph ! My heart stopped on seeing that. It was a picture of Abhi with a snake around him !

Brave Abhimanyu !

Veera Abhimanyu !

Tears started flowing from my eyes and I instinctively held him close. Abhi looked at me silently and wiped my eyes.

“Why are you crying ma ?”

I could only mutter, “Hope you were not hurt by the snake.”

Abhi patted me and said “Amma, it is Indian Rat Snake. Non-venomous. It is diurnal and are found near human habitation !”

I was surprised to hear this from my little boy !

He continued “I was afraid in the beginning ma, but later enjoyed holding it. See, it did not bite me at all and I’m fine !!”

I smiled at him encouragingly, not wanting to diminish his new found courage !

He said with concern, “Ma, you cried when you left me at the camp. You cry when you receive me at the camp. You are crying when you see my pictures.I am fine, dont cry ma !!”. Again this little boy had changed the script and stolen my dialogues. I was supposed to be the brave mother, in control of the situation and telling him words of courage !! I smiled bravely and told him, “I am happy that you are brave !”

His little brother, was in awe of him and utterly proud of him. He kept telling me for many days later “Abhi is brave ma !!” , though only when out of earshot of his big brother ;).

While signing up Abhi for the camp, my goals were to increase his nature awareness, adapt him to mingling with strangers easily, learn to be away from me & home, become self-sufficient in his daily personal activities and learn to eat different foods !

More importantly I wanted him to become independent and bold enough to take his own decisions and stand by them, never going back on a promise, even if the world turns against him. Only a brave person can do this.

I was glad that majority of the purpose was touched upon, a beginning made.

While signing up, I had thought about my acceptance of his absence & my reactions to camp conditions only fleetingly ; lest I do not sign him up at all !

It was as much a test of courage for me, as it was for him ! More so for me, perhaps !

A camp of growing up for the mother as much as for the child !

Now my younger one is waiting to go for the camp and show me proudly his picture with a snake around him ! I teased him that the snake may be afraid of Rahul and so let’s not trouble the snake. But he has made up his mind ! I have one more stage to grow up I guess, with my little baby !

As Abhimanyu turns 10, I look back at the way he has overcome challenges in life at this young age, how he has adapted to sudden turns of tides and situations and how his innocent childhood blooms amidst a rocky sea.

This does not mean that he has magically become mature, very brave, perfect etc etc. That is boring anyways, right ? A child has to take his/ her own sweet time to grow, being naughty, careless, fun-loving etc along the way ! Infact, a person should retain a little of his childlike nature even as an adult.

But exposure to nature and new situations at an young age definitely gives the child a strong foundation, rooted personality , a courageous outlook and respect for all of Existence. This is what I’m trying to give children.

Abhimanyu’s growth reflects my growth as a person and a mother in the past few years, in some ways.

May Existence take care of every child on this Earth.

~Punitha Lakshmi

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

Inactivity to !n Act!v!ty – CTC’s Kids Fun Run 2012 !

The sunset cast a serene reflection over the canal waters. Few birds were skipping over the water in a playful mood. The high rises of the city, though seen, seemed too far away. Nothing seemed to disturb the peacefulness of this stretch of water and the accompanying trail.

Sunset @ Buckingham Canal, Chennai

But a few of us were busy discussing on the preparations and logistics for the morrow. I left for home when it became dark, but there were a few people who would weather it out in that place, having mosquitoes and stench for company. Lots of arrangements for the big event tomorrow were yet to be completed. There were many other people in different parts of the city doing last minute tune-ups to different aspects of the event.

CTC Volunteers Team – a few people missing in this pic…

What motivates a person to spend a lot or all of his/her personal time in planning/preparing/executing a cause ?

Why would anyone expend energy on something which does not return monetary gains ?

Why on earth would anyone brave the bitter sun, pouring rain or dense darkness of the night to make things smooth for unknown strangers ??

Passion for the cause is one possible answer.

Love for humanity could be another explanation.

Spreading the joy that a person has got from an activity, so that others could also experience that joy may be the reason.

It is all of this and above all the zest to actually go on the field and make all of the above true by actions.

It is called ‘Volunteerism’. It is also the ‘Spirit of CTC’. This is the common thread running through every activity of CTC, be it the treks, runs, cycling, social causes or tree plantations.

Volunteers are the souls who go the extra mile and give freely of their time, energy, money etc in making impossible things possible, simple things extraordinary, and make every participant achieve his goal and feel good about themselves. Not just in words, but in concrete actions.

Volunteers willingly go the extra miles ,

And get rewarded by genuine smiles 🙂

So much theory on volunteerism is not necessary for anyone who witnessed/participated in the CTC Buckingham Canal Marathon on Oct 7, 2012, Sunday @ Chennai.

Peter – the founder of CTC, leading from the front…

It had rained the previous night and the morning was cool and cloudy. It remained so for the entire duration of the marathon. Neither rain nor shine played havoc with the proceedings.

Buckingham Canal, Chennai

Buckingham Canal is a 425 km long man-made canal that runs through 2 states – from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh to Villupuram district in Tamilnadu. Wikipedia has more information on this fascinating waterway http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckingham_Canal.

The stretch of this canal that was chosen for the marathon was the stretch from ECR Link Road between OMR and ECR to Muttukadu. The trail was red sand with cityscapes to the west and mostly empty land to the east of the canal. How many of you have actually got off the main road and taken a stroll by this canal ?? Many would not have, despite residing in or visiting Chennai for years. It was my first time and I was stunned by its beauty and the potential it held for being a major outdoor jogging/cycling trail in Chennai. Thanks to the founder of CTC, Peter, for identifying this offbeat location for conducting this marathon.

This canal is a sad testimony to the unplanned urbanization and mindless industrialization of the city without any responsibility towards conserving precious water and other resources in the vicinity. This situation is not unique to Chennai as many Indian cities are grappling with the same issues.

Cityscape on OMR forms a backdrop to the scenic Buckingham Canal…

Hope this marathon brings into limelight the wonderful possibilities this canal and trail hold for recreation and fitness, apart from using it as a water resource.

And the whole purpose of this marathon – the determined runners of all age groups, different fitness levels and across distance categories. But the goal was one – to complete the chosen distance with good timing without any untoward incidents. They were all excellent and eager athletes. First timers did not fully comprehend what was in store for them but were excited to start their running journey ! Veterans of the track were aiming at bettering their own personal records. I had been eager to run my fourth Half marathon in this track, but organizing/ volunteering responsibilities placed me on the other side of the start line ! And I was equally happy in this side also.

Kids Fun Run – colourful and raring to run !

My main focus for the day, the CTC Kids Fun Run, turned out to be a colourful, fun and wonderful event with 53 enthusiastic kids. The little ones reported well ahead of time and brightened the place with their pranks and laughter. Ofcourse, they were running around so much that if measured it would be a few kms that they had covered 😉

All the CTC volunteers made sure each kid felt extra special and happy.

Happy volunteers :)… Happy participants :))

Some of the parents, guardians were inspired to hit the track themselves and participated in the 5K or 10K. Some were cool and some were anxious. Overall it was a lively crowd.

A family that runs !

My 2 kids were also participating and they were waiting for this moment since many days. Since I had taken them to few marathons with me, they were inspired by my running and were eagerly waiting for their turn at the start line ! Atlast their chance came in the form of this kids run. So in a way, my kids Abhimanyu & Rahul have been the inspiration for me to organize this kids run. Kids of my brother, sister and friends also participated enthusiastically !

 

The kids had 4 distances to choose from – 3 kms, 2 kms, 1 km and 500 mts. They looked like professional runners with their shorts, tracks, tees and shoes ! And ofcourse the id of a marathoner – the running bib with numbering !!

The kids run was to start after the 5K, but some of the kids were already running to the start arch and had to be called back ! Balloons and chocolates adorned their hands, but the former was burst or blown away and the latter was gobbled up in minutes !

Parent clicks !

Assembling the kids for a group picture turned out to be an event by itself. The official volunteer photographers had a tough time to click the group without many parents heads popping in between. Each parent had a camera and it was a sight to see all of them click away standing in rows, even as kids were not eager to stand still !

Kids on the trail…

The kids were assigned one pacer for each distance and they were asked to stick to their pacer uncles ! We came up with this idea as many kids were talking about marathon as a dash/sprint/race and were planning to speed up their run ! So we told them that this is a run for health and outdoor fun.

CTC Kids Fun Run poster

Stretching and warm-up exercises were done for the children and they were flagged off in batches. The distance being short, they were back to the finish line in a jiffy, or so it seemed !

CTC Marathon Start Line….

The refreshment tables on the trail and at the start point took care of their little tummies and kept them energized with glucose, bananas, cookies etc.

Energized…

They posed extensively with their certificate, poster and medals in different locations ! And some of them are eager to run longer distances soon.

Kids posing with medals et al !

But we at CTC are sure that these kids are on the path to have a healthy lifestyle and grow into healthy adults. And definitely, they will create a ripple effect to spread the message of health, outdoor play and fitness to their friends and families.

From Inactivity to In Activity !

From On Screen to On Track !

From Online to On Lane !

My son Rahul… All smiles and says – Run is Fun :))

This is the right wealth to bequeath to our dear future global citizens !

~Punitha

P.S : Except the pics watermarked with my name, the other nice pics are all taken by official volunteer photographers at the marathon. Thanks !

நம்பிக்கை பூ

Bud of cactus… on ECR…

நம்பிக்கையிருந்தால …. பொறுத்திருந்தால்

 

அழகிய பூ பூக்கும்

முட்கள் நிறைந்த செடியிலும்;

 

மெல்லிசை ஒலிக்கும்

கனமாய் இருக்கும் மனத்திலும் ;

 

அன்பு கைகோர்க்கும்

தனிமையில் நடக்கும் வாழ்கையிலும்;

 

ஆனந்தம் பரவும்

கண்ணீரில் மிதக்கும் கண்களிலும்;

Thorns of cactus…

இலக்கு வரவேற்க்கும்

முடிவில்லா கடின பயணங்களிலும் ;

 

மோக்ஷம் பிறக்கும்

ஜனனம்மரணம் சக்கர ஜென்மங்களிளிருந்தும் ;

.

…..என்றாவது ஒரு நாள் .

 

அப்போது அந்த பூ இன்னும் அழகாய் இருக்கும்

மனதை ரணமாக்கும் முட்களை மீறி பிறந்ததால் .

 

~புனிதா

Flower of Hope… A beautiful Cactus Flower…

Tour de Shevaroy – A Cycling Adventure !

I was flying ! The cool wind was flowing through my hair and patting my face ! As  the speed  increased landscapes around became a blur, gentle sounds from nature became muffled and I had the widest smile possible ! I was flying ! A childhood dream was coming true !!

Well, atleast I felt I was flying ! I was actually riding my bicycle downhills on a mountain ! I was having the most wonderful experience !

When I was child I used to spread my hands, stand tip-toe on one foot and rotate so fast that I used to imagine I was flying (how many of you have done it ?!!) !! Sweet memories indeed ! But now I was flying, almost 😉

Flying… !!!

I was on a 2-day cycling adventure trip @ Shevaroy Hills, Tamilnadu on July 7th & 8th ! The trip was organized by Chennai Trekking Club, CTC. When I saw the invite from CTC, I was in a dilemma – not on whether to go or not, but only how to go 🙂 !! I wanted to ride my new MTB on the mountains and fulfill its life’s purpose !! I had some logistical issues to take care of, and I tried to find solutions for those after I registered for the trip 😉 ! The CTC organizers were very helpful and rerouted the drive to Yercaud so I could board at Tindivanam. Set the goal and the way will open up !!

The highway was empty and looked like the entire world was sleeping except a bunch of crazy cyclists who were traveling to a far-away mountain to cyle !

Cycles were loaded in a mini-lorry & cyclists were traveling in a van ! Mid-way, when the cyclists in the van were told by Prashanth that the mini-lorry driver & the navigators were dozing off while driving, the cyclists were instantly awake & started to pray for the safety of their shiny new bikes – atleast the ones who owned bikes ; renters went back to sleep peacefully !! Lesson : if you want a peaceful sleep reduce your possessions and assets to the bare minimum !!

After a short early morning break at Salem, the van took us uphill to Yercaud town. After refreshing, breakfast & unloading and check-up on cycles , we started cycling on the mountains !!

We started off on a small trial ride on an off- road led by Masanamuthu & Jagadish. Well, the trial surely was a taste of things to come, with it’s uphill and rocky roads ! And my cycle got it’s first puncture . The designated puncture master of the trip, Kumar declared that the tube has to be changed and my spare tube came in handy. While I tried to help, I realized they were experts and did not really need my intervention ! Hence, I used the time ‘effectively’ to click some pics of lovely flowers growing on a roadside garden !!

White flowers…

We regrouped and started our adventure. As we crossed the Yercaud main road again, people saw us with wonder as we all cycled in sync, with our helmets & backpacks, must have been quite a scene in style to look ! But within a few minutes after we crossed the town things seemed to go out of sync (& style ;( ) as we panted our way uphill and the group broke up into smaller units according to their own speed ! At many places I was cycling alone.

There was an occasional house, here or there, but mostly it was just trees all around. Some of the houses were bright & colourful, proabably to counter the usual coldness around !! As we cycled further, there was not a soul in sight ! Whenever there was a dilemma as to which route to take , while the organizers studied the GPS, the rest of the gang rested or made into a photo op !

Colourful house…

After some discussions, it was decided to go to Karadiyur watch tower. There was a downhill ride and this is when I started feeling that I was flying ! It was exhilarating !!

But at the end of the downhill gradient, before we started on the next uphill, we took the most vital tea break ! A hot steaming cup of chaay is a true energizer ! What would India be without these little tea-shops dotting our landscape, whatever be the terrain ! There is an old joke, that Tenzing climbed Mt. Everest for the first time and he was greeted by a tea-waalah asking him “ Sir, want some Tea ?? ” . Though it is funny and a legendary joke, it is indicative of the ubiquitousness of the tea-shops !! In a CTC adventure trip these are integral pit-stops wherever they are available !!! If no tea-shops are visible for more than an hours trek/cycling, then it truly means we are away from civilization ; well-atleast till we encountered  a chaiwaalah at the top of the peak :))

Tea stall…

Again we were on the roads, and again the group was getting broken up into smaller units ! We came upon a really rocky road and it was tempting to just stay there as the legs were begging for rest. But then the adventurer part of me wanted to go the extra distance to reach the watch tower. So I along with others took the rocky road. My Cannondale, being an MTB, was on familiar ground now ;). After testing its worth in rocky terrain, Shobana, myself and a few of us stopped, in what looked like a butterfly park ! The plants seemed to be attracting butterflies in droves. The butterflies were flitting around, seeming to sit here and there, but the moment I took the camera, seemed to fly away ! But I patiently waited enjoying the different coloured butterflies and a few did pose in the end for some good clicks !!

Meanwhile one of the team members who had gone ahead, came back to motivate us to ride upto the watch tower ! And we were glad we did ! The Karadiyur watch tower was at the edge of a cliff and offered a fantastic view of the forest below. We could see only the top of trees and this made the view even more greener ! The play of sunlight and shadows also created differing shades of green.

Top of Trees… Karadiyur Watch tower

Lunch followed by rest and we were ready to ride on !! There was uphill for sometime and we struggled to cycle in the steep gradient. During a break the local children made me their official photographer, and wanted to see the pictures instantly the moment I clicked ! Such joy in their faces on being photographed !!

We further trudged on to Kaveri peak. The sun was slowly setting and the hills were turning into different tints of blue ! The crickets were coming out and the rest of the hill seemed to quieten down. After some clicks, we proceeded . The terrain was steeper and challenging. Crossing a few metres seemed like an ‘uphill task’ (pun intended !!) !! At one point, some of the successful cyclists to reach the peak came back and the rest of us could not reach the peak as we needed more stamina for that. Maybe next time !! The cycles were loaded in the mini lorry and we got into the van and drove towards the campground for the night.

It was completely dark when we reached the campsite on top of the hill at Servarayan Temple. But the moment I got out of the van was when I felt totally blacked out – by the bone chilling cold ! The day had been pleasant, but the night was in stark contrast. And I was totally unprepared for such cold weather. After covering myself in a shawl, I ventured out again to see the view from the top. It looked like the festival of lights below ! The City of Steel, Salem, was lit up by the millions of everyday lights ! I wondered how the scene would change if there was a power cut. Maybe complete darkness ? Or maybe not, with all the batteries coming to life !

Arun and his team had driven to Yercaud by car and had the tents and food preparations started ! I was overcome by fatigue and shivering. All I remember is, Sandhiya giving me a cup of hot soup which revived me a little. Ananya, suggested we go back to the van. The closed van was a saviour from the cold winds. Later we were called for an intro session. CTC official intros typically happens at the day, by which time many of the co-trekkers would have already become friends !! So there was really no ice to break in these intro sessions ! Instead there was a lot of good-humoured talk as each told a little more about themselves ! Sometimes, people have to be reminded to stop talking as they could go on and on ! But today the cold winds took on the role of silencer !

Camp food…

Atlast food was ready, and after a quick dinner, we ladies were given a tent that would keep out the chillness. Once inside the tent, I felt the wind would transport the tent and its inhabitants over the mountains and down to the valley !! But sleep overtook me and I did not care whether the tent was intact or not , all I wanted to was sleep.

The next morning dawned more pleasantly and the surroundings were actually visible to us now. The Servarayan temple, from which the hills get their name, was just a few yards away.The camp ground was part of the temple, where fairs would be conducted. There was a merry-go-round and a tea-stall (ya, didn’t I predict earlier itself ;)) . After exploring the place, it was time for morning breakfast of tea & hot bhajjis !! Not an ideal breakfast, but that was the only thing available and it was perfect for the cold weather !

Servarayan temple

After refreshing, getting ready and photo sessions, we were ready for the long downhill ride !! I was actually looking forward to breeze through Shevaroy hills as we were on top of one of the peaks probably.

The Group !

The fresh morning mountain air rejuvenated my tired bones & muscles and I felt totally alive again ! Everyone seemed happy ! We cycled down, nay rolled-down, the ghat roads until we reached Yercaud town. A small break later we were onto our next destination to Pagoda Point. I wanted to get some homemade chocolates for kids, but all I could find was signboards announcing ‘homemade chocolates’ but never found any place actually selling those !! Yercaud town was crowded with weekend tourists (ya, we are not tourists but adventurers, so we dont come in that count ;)) . The route to Pagoda point was scenic. Again we did not go upto the point as it was overcrowded and we decided to go down to Kuppanur.

Winding ghat roads…

After cycling for a long time, we came to a village with a big well ! It gave us much needed water and splashing the cold well water on the face was refreshing ! There was a Primary Health Center and it had the cleanest restroom I had seen in 2 days !!

We restarted and were faced with more uphill rides. Sometimes I could not spot anyone from my group ! But at some points the localites, especially the children would rightly assume that I am part of that helmetted group and give info on the direction they took ! Live, friendly navigators 🙂 At one point we were exhausted. After more uphills and downhills and some rescue by car, we finally reached Kuppanur, the plains at the foothills.

After loading of cycles & goodbyes to the other groups going to Salem & chennai by car, we started our return trip. But the fun was not yet over, as the drive was passed by singing songs non-stop for 3 hours by Shobana, Sandhiya, Ananya, Muthu, Arvind& myself. Each one had their own special genre – but the common thread was Sandhiya exhaustive lyrics database !! A fun and nice team of people !

Tour de Shevaroy was indeed a very memorable trip that was adventurous !

Bougenvilla avenue…

P.S : I was narrating the trip happenings to my kids the next day, while watching Tour de France live on TV. They were wonderstruck by my experience and now think that their Mom is in the league of Tour de France and the little one actually asked when I’ll be going to Tour de France !!!! Well, I am not going to break their belief about their Mom’s capability anytime soon ;)) They will one day be big enough to accompany me on cycle treks and find out how I struggle uphill ;)) !!

Cycling adventurer…

~Punitha

Mother’s Day Trek 2012 to Nagala !

What does a Mother do on Mother’s day ?? Clean, cook, feed & chauffeur kids, finish her pending office work, do projects for her kids, go about routine, and if one is lucky maybe go to a restaurant or catch a cinema?!

Well, in India many of us don’t even know of this day or are just going about our routine. But this Mother’s Day turned out to be special & adventurous for some fun-loving Moms !! We went on a trek to Nagala, AP on May 13th, 2012 ; with our kids ofcourse ! And this trek was special for me as I was part of the CTC organizing team ! Being in Pondicherry and organizing a trek was a bit tough. But the CTC team helped . It was a great experience organizing a trek for kids !

I do not celebrate special days anymore. For me the attraction in this trek was nature & kids – to be close to Nature & spend time with kids, while making kids familiar with nature & adventure.

This is a new initiative by the newly launched CTC Women’s forum. Chennai Trekking Club is a volunteer driven adventure club based in Chennai that organizes regular treks on weekends.

When I reached Chennai, I had to do some preparations for the trek. My kids were also excited and were giving ideas and suggestions – well Rahul’s idea mostly had to do with stocking up on chocolates, cheetos & other such junk food ! At the end of the day when I was ready to sleep, Sinu called & says one of the vans will be unavailable and we had to make alternative arrangements for transport ! This was at 11.00 p.m and we were leaving for the trek at 4.00 am – we had 5 hrs to come up with plan B. After discussion and few phone calls later we were ready with Plan B !!

The response to this trek was good, and the registration sheet resembled a volatile stock graph – numbers kept going up & down and the chart finally stabilized at the minute we left the city limits of Chennai on the morning of May 13th !! We the organizers Sinu & Punitha were busy with preparations for the last few days, constantly making adjustments with the fluctuating registrations ! 3 vehicles, 23 trekkers and 3 hours of introductions and laughter later we reached the base of Nagala mountains.

Abhimanyu & Rahul on top of tree in Nagala !

After a breakfast with the spread from continental to Indian (read chocos to idlis !), distribution of common goods to be carried and instructions, the lead trekker Ajay marched forward with kids matching his steps and some moms trailing behind. Arjun , Sankara and Chellababu were the mid-sweep and sweep of the trekking group respectively, and, between them the regular CTCians steered us safely up the rocky path. My kids Abhimanyu & Rahul had already been on the same trail a couple of weeks before and hence thought they were experts themselves and tried to match steps with Ajay !

We were a motley group, from a spunky 6 yrs kid to spirited 16 yr old teenager to a saree-clad 60 + yrs mom ; with all ages and shapes in between !! But this was planned to be an easy trek considering the differing endurance levels of the participants. The weather also seemed to be celebrating Mother’s day ; it was comparatively cool on that day and we did not feel much heat once inside the forest.

Abhimanyu & Rahul playing in stream !

The first reward for our relentless march was a stream of water – gurgling down the mountains ! The kids had reached the streams along with the lead trekker and splashed water on all others trying to cross the stream ! Soon most of us were drenched with bottles and cooking vessels being used to do ‘abhishegam’ (drench) on all trekkers ! Kids rolled around in the stream laughingly ! Everyone felt refreshed after a dip in the stream ! We reluctantly left the stream to trek further into the forest. But we did not lose sight of the stream from that point on, as we were walking along its banks !

We passed by the first pool and there were two small challenges on the way, like the walk on the ledge and pulling oneself up a narrow space between the rocks. There was another steep climb down a slippery dry mud path, where one had to hold tree branches and find roots for leg support to navigate. With the help of volunteers everybody crossed the path without slipping into the stream below !

After 2 . 5 hrs of trekking we finally reached the second pool which had a small water fall at one corner. It was a picture-perfect setting for our Mother’s Day picnic :). We threw the backpacks, inflated our swim tubes and jumped into the water ! What a sweet reward for a few hours trek !! All the kids took like fish to water ! Soon they were swimming, floating, splashing water, standing under the small waterfalls and playing in the pool !

A cool pool in Nagala

A few minutes later, some of us set about cooking ! First tea was boiled and while sipping the tea we planned on how to go about cooking our lunch – veg briyani, aloo gravy & raita ! And a delicious dessert in payasam ! Ambitious menu indeed ! But with everyone giving a hand, it seemed easy ! We laid out all the ingredients we had carried and realized we had missed out on some items ! Not losing heart, we tried to tweak the recipes and started cooking; collecting twigs, setting up stones for fire and collecting water for cooking.

In between we took turns to jump into the pool and enjoy the cool waters ! Moms & kids splashing water, pulling the other into water and generally sharing lots of fun on that day. The falls, pools & streams of Nagala are all fed by rain water collected in nooks & corners of the mountains. They trickle down, collect , gain force & take different shapes to nourish the mountains, vegetation and nature enthusiasts like us who take the effort to come there !

After an hour or so our lunch was ready ! Well, on any other day and in any other place nobody, especially the kids,  would have accepted what they saw as veg briyani or aloo gravy – neither the colour nor the form was true to the original dishes ! We, the too many cooks who had spoiled the broth, were wondering how to market this lunch to our group and clean up the vessel ! But luckily the group was famished and had a big appetite after the trek and the swim and were ready to eat anything even remotely resembling food ! We exchanged a triumphant smile on the sly ;). We ladled generous portions of the food onto everyone’s bowl before they realized the taste 😉

More luck was on our side ! Two more CTC trekking groups, one a ladies group, were in the vicinity and as they neared our pool, they stopped and joined us for lunch ! A few tried to remedy the situation by making payasam and that was also finished within a few minutes amid laughter !

It was soon time to pack up and trek to the base. We cleaned the place of plastics and collected it in a trash bag. CTC is very eco-conscious and has no-litter policy which is commendable. CTC also has a no-smoke and no-alcohol policy in treks and camps which raises the reliability of the group. We cleaned even some of the stuff littered by other non-CTCians.

Few of us started first with kids and some volunteers stayed back to complete the clean up. The heat had reduced even more and we reached the stream quickly. This time the other two CTC groups (one of them was the Ladies freshers group and another private group) also joined in playing in the stream. Atlast we moved away and reached base camp.

Mother’s day trek group

The sun was setting beyond the mountains and it was xgetting darker. We clicked a few group photos and chit-chatted for a while. Finally we boarded the vehicles and started back to Chennai!

It was a different Mother’s Day – adventurous & fun ! Low on luxury, more on effort ; less on cost, more on fun !! And it was a wonderful experience organizing this trek and seeing many freshers enjoy the experience ! Thanks to the CTC team of volunteers who helped in making this trek a safe & enjoyable one !

Sunset from rocky bed of stream

It was a lovely day, spending fun moments with kids in a pristine locale ! A true Mother’s Day where I,  the Mother became a child in the lap of Mother Nature – temporarily forgetting all worries and challenges in life…

~Punitha