Post Trek Write Up – Emperors Foodie Special – 3

Write up by Sneha Susan Varghese

What started off as registering for my 1st trek into the famed Nagala terrain was soon added with the bonus of a growingly lavish menu spread over 3 meals.  This being my 1st foodie trek,  I was silent spectator to the heated debate on d mail thread,  my wonder was how on earth were these people planning on having these class dishes prepared in d middle of nowhere!!  Oh, I was rubbing my hands together waiting for the curtains to rise.
Soon enough, 21st arrived and Shantha had called,  taking the first of roll calls to come. I’d rushed like a maniac to d koyembedu pick up point, only to find we were on IST (Indian Stretchable Time). The few of us who were gathered there were drawn into Nathan’s Cafe for a quick shot of caffeine. If only we had known this would immediately bring about the appearance of organiser, we wouldn’t have stalled so long. Greetings and acquaintances made,  some past trek delights and spirits revived,  we piled into the van and cars that would head NON–stop to Nagala hills base, barring a stop for tea,  we managed to arrive at the night’s campsite by around 9.
With no time lost, we set out in doubles and triples,  flashlights leading the way,  one mission in mind, firewood to find. We were initially looking for logs and later were corrected to bring any dry twig we could find. When we returned to base  with the firewood harvest, some had already begun setting up “stone age” stoves, others were dicing vegetables,  still others shouting for oil, further smaller groups washing the food in the stream that ran beside our campsite. It was a bustling evening of life and helping hands,  so much so we’re out of knives not willing hands.
The first dish to have been announced for mass consumption was d veg soup, and did it not set the bar for high for all the dishes to follow. While we were cleaning the tapioca and mushrooms (which I now realise is quite a tricky  business) veg salad and non veg soup announcements sent us swarming towards these bearers of glad tidings. It was impressive to see passions surfacing as people argued over the best techniques of preparation. I have to admit what had me floored was the barbeque set up,  I hadn’t in my wildest dreams pictured what I saw: a few bricks and a grill mesh supported with a dash of skill. Having fanned the spark into a raging fire and then having tossed some very juicy legs onto the grill, enticed a good crowd into hovering around.  How the first round disappeared is still a mystery. Soon we had fish being fried in pans. We sure did have a pretty exciting time around that fire. Kappa with spicy hot mushroom masala went down fast and was closely followed  by curd rice.  In the meantime,  the folks at the barbeque weren’t being spared a break,  until prawns masala had stolen the spotlight,  closely followed by the slow but steady low flame fish fry (this dish even had people waking up from the sleeping dead). I would have you rest assured that there wasn’t a soul left who wasn’t licking clean their fingers. By now d tarpaulins were spread out and a kind angel shared his odomos tube. While sleep continued to elude many,  but d chit-chat had to be paused for the day.
Morning came with a cool zephyr, followed with  the bustle  to attend nature’s call. Soon the ration for the day was distributed and packed. Vessels in hand, bottles filled and cheery spirit we set out toward step falls. We had to take a little detour due to water level. The climb up ( and sometimes a welcome down to my surprise) was gentle at first & then winding up.  It was wonderful to have stepping stones to get across the stream. The sound and sight of trickling water coupled with the playfulness that hoping over stepping stones brings; yes, it was good to be lost in a dream. While there were a few thorny shrubs along the way, fortunately I was charged with carrying largest lid which I used as a shield and at times a gong (pity I didn’t get to used it as a sledge or surfing board ;)). With one regrouping stop we managed to haul all the way to step falls. At the campsite, a few of us were drawn to d water like fireflies to the light. In the meantime a more sensible fraction decided to start with breakfast preparation. Firewood foraging had begun again. Scrambled Eggs, Nutella, milkmaid, sausages on bread, it was a heavy breakfast. Tea and coffee were welcome drinks for all.
Following breakfast few of us first times braved climb up to the step of the falls to be splashed by the  gush of water. While others made trips to collect water for cooking requirements. After a long stint in d step falls pools,  the enthusiastic crowd headed for the magic pool. Some of us just went to see the difference, weren’t we rewarded with a good dose of vitamin D. In retrospect, a small price to see some daring jumps, dives and back flips. All this wouldn’t be complete without a ride down sliding falls. The whiff of biryani was enough to lead us back to base,  in no time plates and thatta were loaded and became local hubs of gathering. Chicken 65, mutton chukka, egg masala on the side. For our vegetarians,  there was ghee rice,  potato fry and a veggie fry (and kushka for d daring). After a refreshing drink of lime juice, there were a few who were went in round 3 in d pool,  this time with a little underwater treasure hunt for the red bottle and diving using piled up swimming tubes  as bull’s-eye targets.
It was late afternoon, but d stoves didn’t have rest yet, Gulab Jamoons was the next target. In the meantime, the bags were being packed for the journey down and the campsite being cleared.  With the taste of Gulab Jamoons still lingering we started the descent. Though we missed the trail at one point and had to retrace our steps, but a timely rush ensured we reached the van just as the sunlight faded out. 
At the base we returned to find that some of our vehicles damaged and a few items missing. This aside we were all in one  piece and Chennai bound.
Our wonderful organisers, chefs and all the helping hands manged 28 dishes, all the drama without even breaking a sweat. Hats off to the entire troop and special thanks to the organisers and those who shouldered special responsibilities.

Until the next trek,  Adieu!

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