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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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

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 M!n!-Trek with M!n!-Trekkers @ Yelag!r! !!

trek trail

The drive up Yelagiri hills was strewn with hairpin bends – 14 in all I think. The weather was very cool . Monkeys welcomed visitors along the route and our small group of tarzans in the car were excited to see those !

When we reached Yelagiri, my first mission after settling down kids was to find the possibility of treks that the resort arranged ! There were two treks – one was a shorter one in the evening and the other was a longer and more adventurous one in the early morning.

After discussion with my sister Arthi, we decided on the smaller trek as she is new to trekking. Also I decided to take my elder son Abhimanyu, 8.5 yrs, along as it was to be a short trek of about an hour each way. I had earlier taken him on one in Munnar about 2 yrs back; but that was a tough one and he could not complete it. So this short Sunset Trek proved perfect for our small group ! But then we thought it would be tough for our parents to manage 3 little kids in the room till we came back from the trek. So we decided to take my younger one Rahul, who had just turned 6 yrs, and my sister’s elder one Shakthi, 5 .2 yrs, along too ! Now our group had grown bigger !!

We were a little apprehensive about managing three active and exuberant kids on a trek . So we briefed them on certain trekking ettiquettes; not making the trek into a running race being the most stressed point of the lot !! We were worried about one of them declaring their legs ached too much and we having to carry them. That would have been impossible and we jokingly decided to camp wherever that happened !!

We were all set the following evening for the Sunset Trek. But we had to dodge Arthi’s younger son Surya, all of 3 yrs, who got a sense of our preparations and was alertful to tag along wherever it was we were going. The trio getting ready only made him more aware that something was cooking up right under his nose ;)) But we successfully sneaked out, all 5 of us, leaving Surya to keep our parents company !!

Since our group comprised of first-time, enthusiastic mini-trekkers we were ready well ahead of the 4 p.m that our Guide had indicated to us !! Our group of minis meanwhile indulged in warming up by running all over the place !! Atlast our guide and 4 more co-trekkers arrived to the waiting area and we all took off to bid adieu to the setting sun !!

The sun was still shining bright, albeit on the mid of the western sky. The short hike up the main road took us to a forested area. We climbed over a short broken wall and literally jumped into the forest !! Here only occasionally the sun peeked through the tall trees, most of them Eucalyptus. Soon, civilization was left behind !!

M!n! Trekkers !

Our mini-troop gunned forward as if they were tarzans of the jungle and like they knew the trail like the lines on their palms !! They marched behind the guide, tripping, laughing, but always focussed. I had told them to not lose sight of us or the guide and they remembered it now and then ! Our 4 co-trekkers called out to the guide to stop here and there, but our mini-trekkers were impatient with all the pit stops and were raring to march on ! I had carried snacks and water, thinking the little ones will feel tired or hungry or both one after the other. But they disproved me and were more keen on exploring the forest trail.

There were lot of overgrown thick roots which jutted out of the ground. They tripped over those, but were back on our feet almost instantly. There was a stretch of low web of branches and we adults had to bend in double to navigate that path. But the mini-tarzans just held their head high and glided thru that difficult stretch !! Ha, the advantages of being really short !!!

After 45 mins to an hour, we had reached the sunset point. The sky had turned a multitude of hues now – ranging from red to blue ! The sunset had begun ! The view point was a very narrow area, with just one or 2 boulders to stand on. We could climb a few feet up for some photo-ops; which we did a lot ! But then we came back to the point and there was this big boulder on the edge of the ridge, and it seemed to hold the mountain back from the deep valley on its other side !

Even in that narrow piece of land, the kids found room to jump, play and run ! They were so happy to have trekked there ! Fearlessness – thy name is Child !! The kids were blissfully integrated with nature and did not think twice before doing what came naturally to them. Children have such a Divine Connection with Nature. Absolute Trust that they are also part of it, which many adults forget as they grow up and start distancing themselves from Nature and Existence.

Mini-trekkers enjoying @ Sunset Point

The kids atlast asked for some water and snacks and eagerly nibbled on those ! We then settled down to watch the glorious sunset, in silence. It is amazing how the sky and sun play together to create such myriad tints, changing every minute ! The children were fully soaking in the glory of the sunset. This is a sunset they will not forget for a long time, as they had earned their way to watch this cosmic spectacle !

A glorious Sunset over the Yelagiri hills...

The guide repeated for the umpteenth time that we had to leave as it was already dark. We broke out of our reverie and reluctantly started the descent. We had forgotten the flash light and I fished out my cell phone to get some light. But we had to be sure to follow the guide as he was the only one with a flash light. There was friendly banter on the way back with our co-trekkers from Bangalore and they had lot of questions about Pondicherry as they were planning to make a trip here next !

The kids were too excited and did not have a trace of any fatigue ! They were eager to share their exciting experience with their grand-parents and ofcourse their little brother who was obviously solely ruling the roost in the room, in their absence ofcourse ;))

I could not do the longer trek due to lack of time.  Maybe next time :))

~Punitha

Enchanting Nagala !! Part 2

In case you are joining me late on this trek, you can view the Part 1 of my Nagala trek here .

Pitter patter… a rhythmic sound seemed to be the bgm for my dreams !  But I was woken up by the trickling of water on my sleeping mat and I was completely wet. It had been raining all night and I had slept under the rains ! I decided to wake up and noticed a few of my co-trekkers were awake in an open tent. I joined them.

We were talking in low voices, more out of reverence for nature’s silence around us than for concern for our sleeping friends ; We wanted more people to wake up and join the early morning party !! Some were hungry and out came the snacks – it was 3 a.m ! We chatted and sang . After some time a very low light started dispelling the darkness. Through the clearing on the tree tops we could see the light. Within a few minutes the stream reflected the early morning light. The light was soft and the morning was tender. The flowing stream was singing a soft melody and the setting seemed too ethereal to be real ! One trekker woke up and when we showed her the first rays penetrating the forest, she instinctiveky switched on her torch to find out where the sun’s first rays where !! Another trekker announced that she had thought in her sleep that the constant gurgle of the stream was actually an artificial table top water fall !! It was funny and ironical. We cityzens – we urgently need more zen in the city !! We are all prone to such ironies when our lives get hardcoded in the city ! We need to become more zensitive !

First light streaming in through the trees...

The light permeated the forest slowly but surely. The rain was easing off a little. Hope was dawning among the trekkers that we would be able to trek back, provided the rain did not become heavier; then it would be hazardous.

The rest of the camp woke up and everyone felt a hot cup of chai is what would get us going and raise us out of the numbness due to sleeping in the cold and rain ! But alas, there were no dry sticks or firewood as rain had soaked all the trees and ground. We would have to wait for many more hours before we can drink anything hot.

We got down to the job of clearing the camp site – folding our mats & tarpaulin, picking up the little trash and stuffing them in carry bags, arranging our own bags. We did not have an extra set of dry clothes so we just had to remain wet.

We started the return trek. We followed the lead navigator. Another navigator brought up the rear of the group. But very soon we would be breaking into groups naturally based on our trek speed and stamina, and in some cases our photographic expeditions !! But the group always conglomerated at the critical junctures which were hazardous, to help each other out.

The day was cold and windy inspite of the early morning hope that the first rays had given. The river had swollen considerably and the banks were flooded. We could not go through the exact same spots we had used the previous day due to inundation. We had to test and find safer spots for criss-crossing the stream and scaling the gorge.

Misty Mountains

A mist had enveloped the gorge and the mountain peaks were capped by the clouds. The trees and plants were fresh having been washed by the rain. The rocks were wet and slippery. The river’s contours had altered dynamically owing to the rains. It was very deep at places and we had to rethink our steps all along.

Except for the slips and falls, which we had come to accept as normal, the first hour or so was uneventful. And then we came upon The Dead-End Pool – again !!

This time we frolicked in the swollen mini waterfall before we geared up to cross the dead end pool. After some group snaps, we formed a human chain across the stream to pass our backpacks. That done we crossed the vertical boulder cautiously. Then we carried our bags across the length of the gorge. One trekker fell off the vertical boulder into the water. She was quickly rescued. She was lucky to have escaped with minor cuts and scrapes. We were tired and hungry as we had not taken a proper breakfast. But we could not even think of that now. We were not yet out of the Dead-End pool. The walls of the gorge were even more slippery than the previous day and it was difficult to cross with the backpacks. After a point the guys offered to bring most of the backpacks. They were very helping throughout.

I was now at the vertical wall, from where I would have to get into the pool to be ferried. It was not possible to climb down as there were no footholds and the organizers had hit upon a solution – to jump into the water with a sleeping mat tucked under our hands. This would help us to bob back to the surface after the dive , provided we do not let go off the sleeping mat; in which case we would have a few seconds to explore the bottom of the pool before we rest there permanently  😦 !!Two guys and a girl would be in the pool to hold and ferry us the moment they spotted our bobbing heads; I’m sorry, its ‘if they spotted our bobbing heads’ !!

I closed my eyes, prayed to nature, scrolled through my bucket list which included learning to swim if I went back alive after the trek (!), kissed a goodbye to existence and loved ones, tightened my hands around the mat, took a deep breath and jumped feet first into the emerald green coffin !! I could feel chillness and darkness envelop me. I was into the water and the mat was slipping away. Water was entering my nostrils and mouth and I was gasping for breath. I was bracing myself to explore the deep confines of the pool, of that I was sure. Suddenly I could feel a breeze and somebody holding my arms; yes I had bobbed up alive ! I was ferried across the pool and the successful ones were cheered and clicked ‘on arrival’ at the banks of the Dead-End pool ! The organizers joked that since many of us were letting the mat slip while jumping, they should just push us into the water and stuff a mat under our arms if we bobbed up ! Yes, we were crazy to even attempt something like this !

Once the entire troupe had victoriously crossed over the pool, we celebrated by having the first meal of the day at around 12 noon. The rain was pouring again and we had a standing buffet. The pre-cooked chappathi packets were brought out along with 8 varieties of pickles ! The pickles were spooned onto the chappathis, rolled and dived into ! There were a few packets of namkeen and sweet rolls that disappeared quickly. After this relishing meal it was time to resume the trek.

By now, the stream had become my good friend and the slips too did not hurt much; and also perhaps my body had become numb ! I slowed down to click some snaps along the way. The mist had enveloped the mountains and the upstream. The speed of the flowing water was faster now due to the volume of water flowing from the source. This made some of the apparently clear spots also difficult to cross as less rocks meant more speed of the water. It was a live lesson in hydraulics.

Mountain and River - Nature's Love Story...

We reached the first pool and decided to take a break. I lay down on the rocks and gazed at the mountain peaks. Nature is amazing. There is a wealth of information and wisdom there that reveals itself only to the seeker. We just need to sit in silence in nature and we can hear the whisperings of  love and wisdom that resounds.  I looked at the steep and narrow gorge and wondered at the river’s patience in making the mountain understand the river’s love for the mountain and creating a path for itself to flow through the heart of the mountain. And such a mighty mountain becoming tender enough to be moved by the gentle river. The River flowed happily protected by the strong Mountains. The witnessing of such love tugged at my heart. Love and Faith can indeed move Mountains.

I indulged in some macro photography that I could not do so far in the trek. There was friendly banter and it was time to hit the resume button. From now onwards it would be a relatively easy path. But our energy levels had dipped dramatically and this made the rest of the trek tedious.

Rain drops...

The final lap resembled a comedy movie where groups get lost and keep running into each other and going the wrong way again and again ! This mountain stream can change course slightly depending on the rains and one small wrong turn could lead us into an unknown part of the forest. The organizers were experts and they charted our course well. In the last stretch we also encountered many local villagers who come to the mountains often to pick up firewood or leaves etc. They walked as if they were walking on flat ground under optimal conditions while we struggled like a baby taking its first steps ! The locals were people who were part of nature and they did not need special equipments to visit her !

After much walking we sighted the dam. It was brimming with water. We could spot the temple in the distance. The embankments of the dam were windy and cold. The open spaces and the wind across the water made the walk tough. It looked like a storm was hurtling towards the mountains. Darkness was falling over the mountains. We crossed the dam at its narrowest part and saw our parked vehicles. One group decided to break for dinner enroute while some of us planned to go straight to Chennai.

I switched on my mobile and saw some missed calls. I would have to answer them soon and face some tough questions !! Not yet ! I had not yet bid adieu to the mountain, stream, trees and clouds ! I had the feeling that I was bidding goodbye to a close friend. It was also time to say goodbyes to my co-trekkers who had become good friends by now, having survived two strenuous days together. The organizers had done a wonderful job and were very helpful.

My brother informed me of the approaching storm and the heavy rains in Chennai & Pondicherry. It was going to be a rough ride back to Chennai. The rains would become heavier en route. We would be riding into the storm as the storm would reach these mountains in a day.

I'll be back soon !

I took one last look at the mountain and the stream. I’ll be back to Nagala sometime in the future. Right now, it is time to go back to Civilization !

Enchanting Nagala !! Part 1

I was stuck to the rocky wall, shivering , like a fluttering leaf on its way to the abyss ! It didn’t matter at this point if the shivering was due to the cold or the wetness or just fear ; or if it was a combination of all these. My legs refused to give up the only two safe footholds available and my hands were gripping the steep wall like my life depended on it ; huh, ‘like my life depended on it ‘ ! Yes ! My life really depended on it right now. I was discovering the real meaning of this phrase practically ! But it was not the right time or place to pursue any literary discoveries – I was ‘hanging on for dear life’ here. There goes another idiom !

Nagala gorge - Dead-end pool

I looked down to see the cold pond; I looked up to see the vertical cliff rising to the skies. I was in awe of the wonderful creation. I was also apprehensive of the unknown challenges they posed.

I had been ferried across the pool by an expert swimmer while I held on to a rolled sleeping mat that doubled up as a floater. The pool was deep and I was not a swimmer ! Then why in the world did I agree to this ferrying ! I was left at the bottom of this rocky wall where I had hoisted myself up, with some help, to cling to the sides of this slippery gorge.

A few minutes ago while I was awaiting my turn at the banks of the pool, I had seen somebody slip and fall into the water from this very place I was in now. But she had been quickly helped back to safety. This image was fresh in my mind as my hands groped around for the next place to clasp. Somebody extended a hand and I held it to climb one step higher on the rocks. After a few more vertical steps it was time to traverse the length of the gorge wall.

Our backpacks were ferried in an indigenous raft made from a few branches and the sleeping mats .

indigenous cargo raft

I looked ahead and saw the wall dotted with human figures loaded with backpacks. For the next several minutes we were intently focussed on traversing the steep walls. In close view, the wall looked like layers of bread slices stacked casually; only that it was not soft or edible ! Maybe my hunger had led to this bread metaphor ! I had lost track of time, but my biological clock seemed to be working perfectly ! The colour of the rocks ranged between cream to black. The jutting edges were jagged and sharp.

Gorge wall - like stacked slices !

We reached a turn in the wall and sat on the boulders. I was in the heart of Nagala mountains – a forest in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, India.  Nagala was 100 kms to the north of Chennai and it had been a 4+ hours drive. The route was scattered with fields of jasmines and roses and had for the most part been open roads with very few villages bordering it.

It was love at first sight ! The casaurina trees, dam, a small temple and beyond all that the mountains ; expansive and mighty. The weather was cool and windy.

Enchanting Nagala !

We had started our journey from Chennai at 5.00 a.m. With a short breakfast break at the interstate border, which also would be our last hot meal for a couple of days 😦 , we had reached the base of Nagala at around 9.30 a.m. We were distributed food packets that were picked up in a village on the foothills enroute. After some basic instructions we had started our trek.

We were at the Eastern Entry of the Nagala mountains. The dam was brimming with water and we had walked along its banks till we had reached a narrow footpath ; we were on the base of the hills and it would be an uphill trek thenceforth. We had initially walked on dry land over naturally pebbled narrow pathways which had given way to rockier paths as we progressed. And then we had sighted the Stream ; bubbly and beautiful in all its charms !

I could hear the soft murmurings of water grow stronger and then I saw the stream ; its water pure and clear . This mountain stream flowed through the mountains eroding the rocks and forming this beautiful gorge. It was fed mostly by rain waters and covered the breadth of the gorge.  This stream would be our friend and guide on this trek and we would just follow her path, trying to reach her source. The mountain was lush with huge trees, shrubs and grass peeking out of every available nook and crevice.

Charming Stream

After a couple of hours of trekking we had reached the first pool where we had taken our first break. I had indulged in the cool waters happily. Everyone had enjoyed the welcome break and the refreshing waters. We had resumed our trek and after another hour had come face-to-face with the Dead end pool – the crossing of which was in progress now.

I looked around at the tired yet hopeful faces of my co-trekkers. It was a ladies trek and we were a motley bunch of 20 ladies and 4 guys who were our guides. A few hours back we had all been total strangers , but now we were helping each other in survival ! I did not know what I was signing up for when I registered with Chennai Trekkers for this trekking adventure. But something inside me kept compelling me towards this adventure. Perhaps it was Nagala calling !

Chennai Trekkers is a group of adventure enthusiasts who organize treks and other daring adventures. They form an active bunch with numerous activities every week. It is commendable that it is a completely volunteer based group. On this trip, they were very supportive of the mostly first time trekkers, instilling confidence and pepping up if someone was tired.

The rest of the trekkers started arrivng at this rest point; well , it was a rest point only because it was a bottle neck before the next crossing ! A few had already started to cross the rest of the pool. I was next. I climbed up a small boulder and jumped on to the next big boulder.

I sat on the edge of the huge boulder and peered into the dark green deep waters with fear.I looked up into the sky hoping against hope that a chopper would magically fly by and pick me up into safety ! I looked around – a few faces were intently looking at me, expecting me to take the next step anytime. But it looked like my mind had frozen.

I could hear the instructions being repeated again – slip down this boulder, walk across that rock, climb the third boulder and slide down and walk across the vertical wall into the shallow end of the stream. Looks easy ? Definitely not, especially when you have just gained the knowledge that the pool is around 10 – 15 ft deep near the boulders and adding the height of the boulders it would be a free fall of 30 ft to the bottom of the Dead-end pool ! Whoever thought of this appropriate name – Dead-end pool ; and why would they use the redundant words ‘dead’ and ‘end’ in the same name to extinguish even the faint glimmer of hope that a first timer would have of crossing the pool alive !! Phew, what had I got myself into ?!

A few hours back I was lazing in the safe and warm confines of my home, sipping a hot coffee and enjoying the monsoons ! But now I was out in wild in an adventureous trek !

SLIDE” ! Somebody said this rather urgently, breaking my flashback bubble in its infancy !!

I had to slide down the almost vertical boulder now. I decided to go ahead; as if I had any other choice !! Even a return at this point would mean sliding down the other end. The other choice was being perched atop the boulder for eternity; no, that option didn’t look inviting either :(.

I took a deep breath and started my slide… somebody held my hand and in that few seconds of unaided drop my heart jumped out a thousand times. My foot hit something hard, i looked down to see myself on the next boulder. A couple of steps and I started my upward slide on the next boulder. Mid way through the climb somebody extended a hand and helped. Once atop this boulder it was a slide down again. Then I walked a few steps on a gorge wall and stepped down into the shallow end of the pool. I had crossed the Dead-End pool; and I was alive !!

I walked a few more steps in the stream and stood on solid ground. A tiny water falls trickled by the rocks. The gorge ahead narrowed down once again after having been broadened by the pool. Here it truly looked like the walls could cave in any moment ! It was an amazing sight, worth the risk of crossing the Dead-End pool.

We played in the stream and the waterfalls. It was ice cold but that hardly deterred me from getting soaked. I was brimming with happiness. Both were overflowing – the stream and my heart ; the stream due to the active monsoon and my heart due to the frolicking in the stream !

Bubbly Stream !!

We walked for some more time through the stream and stopped for lunch at a cluster of flat boulders. We had been given a packet of lemon rice and pickle by the organizers at the start of the trek. That looked like Mannah from heaven after the cold and adventurous day of trekking. There was much chattering and singing during the meal and everybody lightened up before embarking on the next leg of the trek.

After a satisfying meal we were back on our journey. Our backpacks became heavier with the water. The trek prep mail had listed things to be carried and also a to be avoided in the trek kit. Important among the to-carry items was a LED torch ; make-up kit was the most prominent of the dont-carry list ! The latter was not a problem for me as I do not own any except my favourite kajal, which I reluctantly left behind for this trip ! One set of change of clothes, a pair of floater chappals , camera, mobile, a swimming tube, a blanket , a sleeping mat, a toothpaste & brush, soap (these 3 were not used at all !), energy bars and a packet of biscuits were the other items that made up my kit. And ofcourse my trusted companion – a book. This time it was the JK book – First & Last Freedom. Well, the book would be subject to much water treatment before it would see the light of the day after the trek and experience its freedom from the backpack !

My trekking kit

I tightened my sleeping mat to the bag and restrung my backpack across my shoulders. If human beings had to carry around all their material and land possessions on their backs all the time, then none would dare hoard wealth ! Corruption would become non-existent ! Neither would we be spending all our waking hours working mindlessly to buy some useless coveted product or save for some big vacation or an unknown rainy day ; we would just step out of our self-imposed convictions and fears and drench in the rains and bask in the sun . We would not even be praying for ‘Kani Nilam Vendum’ as the great tamil poet Bharatiyar sang in one of his poems.

We waded through the rocky stream and through its wooded edges; slipping, falling, singing, talking, tracing a route and retracing at times to find a safer passage, flowing with the stream and swaying with the breeze. But mostly a cheerful silence predominated. Only the gurgle of the stream and the swish of the breeze throught the gorge resonated. I felt the Silence permeate my being. It was Heavenly .

The daylight was slowly giving way to darkness. We were scheduled to trek up to another pool for the night camp. Our camping site was nowhere in sight .

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost must have been on a similar trek when he wrote this poem !

We were weary, cold and hungry. The organizers had become a little skeptical about reaching the pre-determined camp site. Darkness crept in gradually and the falls and slips increased. There was a quick discussion and we decided to camp at the first available flat surface. Yep, flat surfaces which we take for granted in the plains was a premium in the gorge.

We trudged along for some more time until we could see no further due to darkness. There appeared a small clearing by the stream which was flat too. One of the organizers who had already gone on a fast recon mission to find a much bigger camp site returned with a negative answer. So we decided to pitch our tents on this small patch.

We threw our bags and spread out our sleeping bags. We then collected some firewood and somebody started a fire. The cooking pots which the organizers had carried in addition to their own bags were quickly put to use. The 2 pots were filled with water from the stream and instant soup was cooked in one. Out came the ubiquitous Maggie Noodles from each of our bags and added to the other cooking pot ! We drank the soup and ate the noodles from the one bowl each of us had brought in our trekking kits. It tasted relishing and filling than the best buffet I had ever tasted !

Yummy noodles and soup !!

At one side of the small clearing a camp fire was burning. We gathered around the camp fire and broke into songs. There was a slight drizzle and there was a possibility of the stream swelling up and flooding our camp site if heavy rains lashed through the night. But we did not have any choice; we could not go to higher ground. The ground was also wet. A few dead branches were cut off to create some sleeping space. After more singing and second helpings of the noodles we crashed on our sleeping mats. Out came the can of Volini spray to give relief to the sprained muscles and strained joints ! We were told to lie still if a slimy visitor from the forest ran glided over us ; yes, the place abounded in snakes ! Great, this last bit of trivia made the scene dangerously perfect 😦

As I started drfiting off to sleep some body covered us with a tarpaulin sheet since the drizzle had become heavier now. Snakes, stream, rain, darkness, flash floods, insects – I slept peacefully amidst these. Not one trace of the sleeplessness that one experienced even in the most luxurious bed !

In this cozy state, the events leading upto the trek and the start of the trek itself ran through my mind. I was smiling in my sleep when I realized how I had managed to come on this trek 😉

Take a break – We’ll resume the trek in Part 2 !!