“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
-Edmund Hillary (1st Human to climb Mt.Everest)
“Do you want to sit at the peak of a hill, enjoy the beautiful view, take a swim in a cool pool of clear unpolluted water, drink piping hot Tomato Soup, eat delicious Vegetable-Biriyani cooked in the forest and sleep with the star-studded sky for a blanket and rock-solid-earth for a Bed??”If you have even a teaspoon of “Adventure” in your blood, you would say ‘YES!!! I DO’.
I have several gallons of adventure in my body. So when my sister announced that she can’t make it to the CTC-Trek-to-Tada on 17th and 18th March, I was more than happy to fill her shoes and go instead of her. Secretly, I was shocked at my own good fortune!! But here is the difference between “Marketing” Dept and “Maintenance” Dept.My sister told me I will have boat-loads of fun and Bucket-loads of adventure. She never told me I will require a Bulldozer-Body and a mountain of “Will-Power”.The trek to Tada started with awalk. I am sure the lead Organizers Marimuthu and Masanamuthu knew what they were dealing with when they saw new faces that had “Office-couch-potato” written all over them. Except for a handful of people who had gone on Foodie treks before (that is a lot of eating and not-so-much climbing), the rest had only climbed staircases on rare days when the lift didn’t work. So to wake up the sleeping calf muscles and gently break-in our never-used shoes, we walked… and walked.. And walked until……… we saw water.
Water had never looked quite as beautiful as it did when we first caught glimpse of the stream. The woods were lovely, dark and deep But we had a schedule to keep – and miles to go before we sleep and miles to go before we sleep. The poet in me was quoting “Robert Frost” while a local boy in the stream did a soulful rendition of “Eee Aathaa Aathoorammaa Variyaaa”. I was pleased to have a fan following . Maybe it was my actress-like sunglasses or maybe he had drunk too much “water”. We washed our faces, wet our feet, clicked a few snaps for keep-sake and moved on While the public tend to pollute our nature with plastic garbage and booze bottles, CTC believes in leaving nothing but “footprints” behind.The hike began after the stream. What started as a gentle slope slowly got rocky, grassy, steep and finally, outright rough. We had a trail for some time. But after a while, we were making a pioneering effort and paving our own way through a thicket of thorn bushes and immensely slippery grass-lands, carefully stepping over pebbles, rocks and boulders.
Lesson 1: It is a lousy idea to wear new shoes on a trek. Why? New shoes bite (a lot more than dogs).
After what seemed like endless walking and extremely short breaks in-between, we approached a particularly tricky terrain. To a seasoned trekker, it might have been child’s play. But for a sporadic trekker like me, it was like Organic-Chemistry-Exam. With several big-winged birds in my stomach, I stepped through the rocks like a cartoon character – occasionally going “Aaaahhhhh…” hands rotating in full circles on both sides, sometimes losing balance over an unsteady rock and inventing new dance moves.Did I mention?? I’m a girl. I know girls are supposed to be graceful but terms and conditions apply (like dress, makeup, location, AC etc..). And inside a forest, when trekking with new shoes that bite your toes and chew your ankles, when the ground under you defies laws of gravity – Girls (like me) are faaaarrrr from graceful. But do you want to see grace in Men?? Come on a trek and carefully observe the “experienced” trekkers. They step over rocks, jump between boulders and slither between thorn bushes – all with a spring of enthusiasm in every step and a hint of laughter on their faces. The forest is home of their Forefathers (at the start of evolution) and they seem to have inherited the genes perfectly . The view of the valley at each clearing was wonderful. But the sight of our organizers – Marimuthu and Masanamuthu, armed with a GPS, occasionally slipping into the wilderness to explore the path while we took breaks to catch our breath – truly priceless!!Someday, I aspire to be like them. Graceful* – *no terms and conditions apply.The walk ended in an all-rock clearing. And what do we see?? WATER!!!Most of the members in our group had gotten there before us. I was almost the last one to enter the clearing and found about 90% of the guys inside the water. How could I resist?? Off came the Back-pack and Toe-biting shoes. I can’t swim. But some generous dude had a tube-float For the next 2.5 hours or so, I waddled like a duck!A lot of guys did diving-practice. Some tried stunts like jumping with twists, jumping backwards, doing loops in air etc..
Lesson 2: Learn swimming. It is not mandatory. But it is a lot more fun when you can swim
While we were soaking up in water like a bunch of buffaloes, some resourceful people in the group went out in search of fire-wood. Very soon, it started turning dark and people started getting busy, helping with the dinner preparation. One dept brought fresh water. Another cut the vegetables. One set of people prepared the camp-fire. Another set started making the Soup. People like me (with no particular skill-set) sat around taking pictures Soup was followed by Biriyani I’m not sure how long it took to finish cooking the Biriyani. But trust me, it was awesomeness it its purest essence The jokes, the friendly jibes, the laughter – we had started the day as total strangers who met in a Bus. By nightfall, we were pulling each other’s legs like we’d been “juddi-buddies” or something Amazing how walls just melt in moments After dinner, we sat around the camp-fire for some games. Blame it on a day long trek or just reluctance to sing in public, the songs didn’t last long. We decided to hit the sack.. until…Out of the blue, someone said “Snake!!!”. My first impulse was “Enough teasing already… just sleep..”. But it was not a fake-call.Slithering along the rocks, less than 2 ft away from the place where we had been cooking biriyani an hour back, was a Python. I am measurement challenged so I don’t know its accurate length. Lets just say it was 12ft roughly. Skin gleaming in the torch-light, slithering so silently through the rocks. There was a mad scurry for cameras. Questions like “will there be more?”, “will it attack us?” and many more. One guy actually touched it (brave heart and a little too reckless). After a while, the snake just disappeared between 2 huge rocks. The organizers were trying to reassure us saying “it won’t come back, sleep in peace, we’ll take care”. But the damage was done I guess Some counted sheep, some counted stars, and some (like me) counted every creek in the darkness… quietly thinking “is that the snake or the tarpaulin making that noise??”Early Morning – I slept. I woke up when someone kicked me. It was by accident apparently (I doubt it). Morning tea preparation was on full swing People were disappearing into the bushes and rocks armed with a bottle of water (oohh I wonder why 😛 ).
Lesson 3: Dear Trek-Loving-Sisters: Changing clothes in a forest is not easy. Every twig that caresses your back when you change your t-shirt will make you jump right out of your skin – more so when you are mortally afraid of snakes, insects, bees, centipedes, millipedes and the animal-kingdom as a whole. If you can’t handle the pressure, just don’t bother changing clothes. Your backpack will be lighter.
After tea, we made a brave attempt to see the source of Tada water fall ( I think). I don’t know why we went climbing – someone just said “the view will be great” and I was ready with my camera. We went far enough and then realized the terrain was far too risky for first-timers. All was not lost though We spotted Gooseberries on the way and came back thirsty as hell Only to find out from the guys who stayed at the base camp that our back-packs had attracted some monkeys in our absence Some decided to swim (bad idea considering we had to trek all day). Others were helping Marimuthu and Masanamuthu prepare breakfast (milk – from powder, cornflakes). Bread and Jam for people who wanted more.Serious trekking started. For the descent, we were going to follow a dried-stream’s trail – Steep and rocky but much shorter than the previous day’s path.
Lesson 4 : Girls – when a guy who is 6ft 3” tall makes a leap of faith between two rocks, you don’t have to share the same faith – especially when you are only 5ft 3” tall. Instead, “look before you leap” and take strides that suit your body. Also, singing songs (however bad your voice) helps forget the pain caused by previous day’s trek – the Indian Army does it while marching – why can’t we??
The first rope-climbing (almost rappelling) session went well I surprised myself by not crash-landing on my posterior. In-fact, I didn’t sustain any injuries at all sure, it was scary – but it was also fun Two brave souls who deserve mention here are Vishnu and Prabhu. Vishnu was my Body-Guard in front and Prabhu, my bodyguard behind. At every slippery slope, every rock that threatened to leave me a mess, these gentlemen offered several words of encouragement. A firm outstretched hand, a reassuring voice and a small cheer after every little rock-conquest. Hail Friendship
The Test :
The rock was about 2-building-floors high. A 90 degree face of cliff. Descent was possible only by rope. Backpacks came off – they will be sent down later. After a few men had positioned themselves strategically at various ledges, the women (2 girls in a team ) were asked to go first. Sindhu did an admirable job. It was my turn next. I reached in one piece. All was well…. or so we thought.5 min after my descent, someone got tired and said “lets pass backpacks for some time”. 12 Backpacks came down. Sindhu and I were making room on a narrow ledge to arrange the backpacks when someone came running towards us saying “Bees.. Bees…”I said “What…????”Then I felt a sting like never before right on the edge of my nose. Then another on my chin. One on my ear. I took my cap of and started shooing them off violently. Someone shouted “Cover your eyes and your face…” So I covered my face, but now they started biting my hands. Where is the jacket?? In my backup – up on a cliff.Out of the blue came a man, opening up a huge yellow tarpaulin. “come under this…!!”
Lesson 5: “Common Sense is key – don’t leave your brains behind with your backpack”
We didn’t have to be told twice. We crammed under the Tarpaulin. We, minus a few who had other plans. From under the tarpaulin, I heard someone ask for match-box. Someone screamed. Then there was smoke. Then Sindhu saying – “OMG he is wheezing because of the smoke!!! “. It was Marimuthu.Under the tarpaulin, oxygen was in short supply. Sweat, panic, bee-stings, limited room and a gnawing loud voice in your head saying “What have we done…!”, all combined, gave some of us a small anxiety attack. What is the state of the others? Did they use bed-sheets from the back-pack? Is someone hurt? Should we perhaps be outside this sheet helping them instead of shielding ourselves? Eventually, the smoke lit by bravehearts Marimuthu and Masanamuthu sent the bees homeward. The tarpaulin came off – we saw a burnt T.shirt, a still burning shoe and a tiny-mini-fire carefully shielded from spreading into a forest fire. Mari took one look at us and said – Go down.Yes sir.
We could hear people shouting in joy and frolic down there somewhere. We knew they were not part of our group – locals perhaps, drunk. Mari and Vishnu went down first. Bijesh and I, laden with 2 backpacks each (none ours) followed suit (with a lot less grace than the guys ahead).We were at the stream again a small group, cos others were still up there waiting for the coast to clear before it was safe to come down again. Without delay, we decided to set out for the gate ( a good 30 minute walk away) to call the bus. We were out of coverage area.It took an hour – maybe more, for the rest of the team to reach the bus. Some carrying 2 backpacks, some shouldering a hurt-bee-stung person in between. Were these the guys who sat like strangers on Saturday morning?First pit-stop was a clinic in Tada. The hurt people got some first aid and safety ATS shots. The majority who were still full of energy sat in a dinky TV repair shop watching the India-Pakistan Match – Boys will be boys.
The Ride back to Chennai was eventful.
A brilliant experience-sharing session between first timers led to a shocking discovery. The sensible man who had opened up the tarpaulin sheet during the bee-attack thereby saving our skins – was an accomplished Mountain climber. Sooo accomplished – His name is Kannan. He has climbed the Mt.Everest in 2004 and is the only Tamillian till date to have done so successfully. He had been part of an avalanche that brought him rolling down 2000ft, broke his back-bone – but still lived to tell the tale!!!As the bus pulled into Tidel-Park area, the ache of having to say “Goodbye” started to well up. When you are having the time of your life – you don’t realize it. But when it is time to go back to office – you realize you would rather climb the mountain, see the python and run for your life from a swarm of bees all over again.My feet hurt. My stomach was empty. I was dirty – head to toe. But as I stepped into my house, I was a different girl. Like a little cub that ran back to the lioness mother, I went home to my mom and said “Amma, it’s a JUNGLE out there!!”
Trekking is like Lays chips – you can’t have just one.
I can only leave you with my favourite lines from a song…
“There is always going to be another mountain,
I’m always gonna wanna make it move,
It’s always gonna be an uphill battle,
Sometimes I will have to lose,
It’s not about how fast I get there,
It’s not about what is waiting on the other side….
IT’S THE CLIMB”
IT IS NOT THE MOUNTAIN WE CONQUER… BUT OURSELVES…!!
– By Sandhiya Rajaraman