A write-up by Saloni Zimba.
“I almost died!” is the set line I start with every time I begin to recount the tales of our trek! (Okay, so I exaggerate, show me a storyteller who doesn’t!). And we did too but let’s start at the start, shall we?
Before we do though, I need to weave in a disclaimer, everything I write is purely a personal account and given that my head for time and distance is just as astute as my head for directions which at best is hopeless, even the numbers I quote may not entirely be accurate.
Day 1: We started bright and early. But the actual start of the trip stood out not at all. We assembled, we got into our vehicles and we started off, landing eventually at the M.G village. A tiny but well organised collection of houses from what I saw, complete with a village school.
The first sighting of the hills from the base is always thrilling, I guess it’s the awe of the challenge ahead mingled with the promise of the escape to come that makes it so. And Saturday was no exception.
We marched through a field, stomped our way across a stream before entering the haven of the shaded forest. Half an hour later, it was time for the advance group to branch off and make our own way. Suitably hydrated and tanked up we commenced on the “advanced” leg of the trek.
Statistically, a 700 meter climb isn’t much and when the trail’s clearly marked it should be an easily achievable target. Honest! Especially when you come from the mountains that I do but add to the equation the 40 degree temperature and the million percent humidity engulfing us and viola!- my statement that I almost died is justified! Of course there were those supermen amongst us with invisible armours that resisted the heat and fatigue as easily as the Man of steel himself who deflects bullets but for some of us lesser mortals it was certainly a test of perseverance and we hadn’t even climbed half of it then!
Midway point some 30 minutes after we branched off, we were given an option…go back now or forever hold our peace which basically translated here to ‘be doomed!’ (In all fairness Peter did warn us). Was it pride? Was it the potential embarrassment in admitting defeat? I’m not sure why but we all kept on even when our heads were calling us crazy. And crazy we were to be out trekking on a day deemed to be the hottest of the year, on terrain as devoid of cover as a bald head!
As we climbed higher, vegetation grew thicker with trees, occasionally to throw in some shade. Yet, the best we could do was trudge along, and that we did, hoping that sheer will power would shield us from the sun.
I have to admit that a mere few meters higher I was ready to throw in the towel again. It was just that bad! But Peter stopped us all, made sure we fortified ourselves and after several minutes of rest, had us reassured enough to actually start back on the trail.
An hour and several breaks later, we reached a clearing, relatively flat grassland interspersed with wispy trees, conveniently located close to a source of drinking water. It was decided that we’d camp there for the noon, so we let down our hair, unpacked lunches of more yummy coconut balls and took a “power nap” to rejuvenate our weary bodies and to let the worst of the heat pass.
At 3.30 pm it was time to conquer the fort, so further up we climbed. The way to the fort was actually paved, big hunks of rock arranged out more or less in order to form widely spaced steps but whoever had taken the effort to do so, had from the looks of it, given up midway. Perched at the end of this roughly hewn path, past the rather prosaic ruins of the fort/outpost was a rock- a gigantic but nondescript rock which we found was anything but! For step on it and it revealed a breathtaking panorama of the lands below. And what a sight it was! Or perhaps it was just the high of being on a literal high, the breeze flirting with your face (finally!) or the headiness of being precariously seated on the edge…but it was absolutely awesome!
Back at the ruins, as we paused to catch our breath after the excursion to the top, we were given a choice of campsites for the night- an old temple with a waterfall 3 hours away or the closest water point 40 minutes down the hill. The latter was finally agreed upon so as the day drew to a halt, we headed downhill towards the stream lured by thoughts of a wash, food and eggs (which Sham had been carrying on top of everything else!).
Horrors! An hour of trekking later, we discovered that the water point, the only one in the vicinity had gone dry- bone dry! Peter and Jeevan strode ahead in an effort to locate another water source and showed no signs of returning. After waiting a while, Raja and Pannu (?) followed to see if they could locate the duo or water. The rest of us waited at the spot initially, just grateful for the rest but growing increasingly worried as the guys failed to return. Finally, Raja and P made their way back with more bad news- Peter and Jeevan had vanished and they couldn’t find a water source. It was dark by then and I guess we were all a little apprehensive, especially, about the water situation. This is when the heroes of the trek swung into action. Pannu and Raja went scouting for a campsite for the night and led us to an open clearing just ten minutes away. A fire was built to ward off any wild animals during the night and for the missing duo to locate us by, should they happen to make their way at night. All the water we happened to still have was taken stock off and collected- we were in strict ration mode which meant that we even skipped dinner as that would only have made us thirstier. Sweaty, dirty and with stomachs rumbling (at least mine was) we laid our mats down and called it a day at barely half eight. As we battled to go to sleep so early, we exchanged stories of our past treks and adventures with each other, completely oblivious to the beauty of the wilds surrounding us.
Day 2: Rested but thirsty we were all up and on the move by 5.45am the plan was to head back to the water point where we had camped for lunch. Fortified by the fruits we had with us and a gulp of water each, we set off uphill following Raja while Punnu acted as the sweeper, encouraging and reassuring us all. It was a hot and sweaty task so thirty minutes later despite the early, we had to halt for rest and water- bottle down (between the 20 of us) from our acutely depleted stocks.
Another half an hour, another round of drinking a sip each and that we were told was the last bottle! We still had about an hour plus of an uphill trek left and no water to help us on. And if our adventures weren’t enough already, we lost our trail somewhere down the line. We were weary, thirsty and dejected as we took in the fact that we were off track. The lemons coated in salt were doing their bit to help us fight the lack of water but morale then wasn’t very high, when we were told that we needed to back track. Nonetheless we did, and guess what….5 minutes later we had not only stumbled across the right trail but we’d literally landed at the campsite.
It was amazing to see the transformation of the group- From people wearily trudging, struggling to put a foot forward to people bubbling with energy, running and excited to be at the water point! We’d made it! And 15 minutes later Peter and Jeevan arrived too with their own stories to tell. From there, I guess, it was cruise control.
We drank to our fill, gorged on cereals and warm milk, even had tea ( thanks to the tireless Ravichandra ever handy with a fire and cooking stick), rested for a while longer and then headed toward the stream for those crystal clear pools Nagala is famous for. And find one, we certainly did. Cool waters, just deep enough and very large, with enough room for all 23 of us to dive in (admittedly some of us had to be cajoled in). It was perfect!
By the time I came out, Ravi had the fire going and lunch was being cooked. Soupy noodles with cheese and eggs thrown in. Yum! The base group appeared from behind a bend too and suddenly it with was a huge big reunion. It was a regular picnic now, relaxed with plenty to eat and drink and talk about. But of course, Peter wasn’t done yet- a quick excursion to the waterfall, just 40 minutes up and 40 minutes down was announced. This though had to be delayed until the piece d’ resistance for lunch had been devoured – Sham’s delicious rice with sambol and eggs.
Of course, Peter’s 40 minutes or for that matter all the trek organisers’ 40 minutes isn’t quite 40 minutes (their heads for time as bad as mine, could it be?) so it took us mere mortals considerably longer to get there. The trail itself was lovely, a fair mix of bouldering and trekking up forested pathways, crossing numerous inviting pools on the way- including the one the base group had camped by (way to go wise ones!) was totally worth the climb. And the dual falls on top feeding the pool was even more so.
Heading back is always a blur. By then, the weariness suppresses the excitement of the trail, and as you switch mentally to city mode once again, it all then becomes a race to get back. It was almost 8.30 pm when we reached the cars parked down in the village square and met the rest of the group. Final accounts were settled, numbers exchanged and farewells made before we climbed onto our vehicles and started back.
So am I justified in saying I almost died? Perhaps, perhaps not but it makes a great opener to a great experience and I shall stick to it!