[Write-up by Sriram]
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Cloud, Mountain, Forest and a bit of madness resulted in me registering for trail run in the Meghamalai forest organised by Chennai trekking club. For a year the posts of the Chennai trekking club had been appearing in my wall thanks to Pandi my friend from my college days. Since then I was envious of the activities of the CTC group. Now it was my turn and it turned out to be one of the trips that cannot be summed up but I will try my best.
It was already an hour late when my bus stopped at 8.30 AM at Chinnamanur, as I got down an auto driver guided me to a hotel where the group had breakfast. I saw a guy wearing shorts and shoes and I asked him the magic words – CTC? He told me to have a quick breakfast and join them in the shared van ride to Meghamalai, breakfast done and van started. The roads were bad as it was under construction. We were quite silent but the kids in the van made sure that everyone knew how happy they felt; as we climbed the mountain it was clear that this place was not commercialized like many other western ghat areas.
After nearly a couple of hours, the van came slowed down and Peters black SUV was seen parked and my cycle fixed to its back. Guys in the van were happy they didn’t miss the start of the first day run as there is no route plan in the mountains. The only plan is you follow the arrow marks in the route and it is not as easy as it sounds. Someone shouted make it fast guys Peter is angry, I could see him walking restlessly as we were already delayed by a couple of hours. My original plan was to cycle for a couple of days so I went to the cycle rack of Peters car to check my Surly bike and saw Vyas trying hard to fix the wheel to his bike, I pictured myself doing that even though my tires were not removed from my Surly I immediately chucked the idea of cycling and decided to run which turned out perfect. Myself Arvind and Nandhi hydrated at the village and joined the group which had just entered the trail from the road. We started jogging and had a neat view within a few hundred meters; spoke a few nice words to the estate workers who were perplexed at seeing uninvited runners.
Peter’s third law of thermo trail dynamics: Trail bliss cannot be created or destroyed it can only be transferred.
The first few hours turned out to be fun, a bit of exploring the route, some nice warm-up and pictures along the way.
Then we bypassed the trail and started a climb to the peak which had me thinking about something that I would always keep in my mind until the end of the trip – never get lost especially if you didn’t plan on it. Sunshine was hitting us now and then we were looking forward to the opening as now we were using all our limbs to climb the mountain. Soon the sky opened and it was a bit of a jog until we could see the view and get blessed by the bliss. Pure happiness results in washing away all your fears; we sat down for a while took a couple pictures and moved along.
After a kilometre we reached the entrance of the estate from within the estate and got demonized.
Then we were waiting for the group to rejoin to find out the next plan as Meghamalai town was visible from there, it turned out to be a long wait until we realized that Peter and a bunch of others were not to be seen. We guessed that they had climbed the nearby hill to another viewpoint. Then we decided to go to the tea shop at Meghamalai and have something to eat. It turned out that the tea shop had eggs and snacks so we settled for omelette and snacks for lunch. Soon we started a search mission which ended abruptly as the missing members reached Meghamalai. The missing members had their turn at the tea shop and we started a run again, this time around the Meghamalai dam and a lake and until Manalar. As usual some members took a dip at the dam after some time we got chased away only to start running again until we went to another lake nearby. We had a dip there, the water was cold. It was refreshing and we remained there while the sun started to dim. Peter uttered some magic words about food and it was clear that we will have to run for another couple of kilometres until we reach Manalar.
Sundari and the cyclists for the day Balaji and Vyas arrived with the car as we neared Manalar and we headed to the tea shop, made orders for the night, it was boiled eggs, chapattis and chicken curry for the most of us and potato curry and chapattis for the rest. We headed out for a walk to achieve the target for the day as until then it was only 25 km, the night walk added 3 more km so it was 28 km when we reached the tea shop again and made dinner for ourselves, yes most of the work was done by us while they served tea and gave us the utensils. We watched some tv programs on the old set and made some jokes and slept in the community hall for the night.
Day two turned out to be eventful by many standards, for one we covered at least 30+ kilometres until we were “safely” escorted by estate owners out of their estate after having made it alive to their land. Ram, Vyas and Harish saw elephants on the trail and while I was contemplating on what the strategy would be little did I know that there was no strategy. For the night we slept at a village whose name I didn’t really care to note as I was more worried about my knees which was showing symptoms of first degree ligament tear.
We started quite early that day as Peter gave the wakeup call around 6:00 AM, we had to get refreshed and start in 30 min. We had tea and Peter joined us and as mentioned that we would be entering the forests and said that once we are inside may gods have mercy on our souls – the disclaimer, that really cleared my doubts. Soon we started to enter trail in some of the most beautiful places of Meghamalai forest.
After a long jog into the forest and no signs of any two legged creature other than CTC members, we found a fantastic view surrounded by shola forest with a lake in the middle.
Spending some time there and having some snacks which we had collected at a tea shop during our morning breakfast at upper Manalar, we soon started our long journey to Vellimalai temple. Where we would group together and decide to go any nearby village for the night as it has already become too late to go back to Manalar. After few km further down an estate owner decide to help us even more by stopping a government bus and sending us back to civilization. We reached a village after the check post and decided to stay there, the hospitality of the canteen owners was amazing and they offered us a place to stay for the night.
It was early morning 5.30 and we all grouped together at the same canteen to have tea and collect our pongal breakfast, which would be our only food source until Manalar. My knees were hurting with every step but the bliss factor was slighting higher so I didn’t exactly sign off, slow and steady I thought. I wore my arm warmers around my legs and strangely they felt better. After an hour or so in the bus we reached a stop from where we would begin the trek until a trail is found to Manalar. On the way my pain factor overtook my bliss factor and I told Sundari that I plan to turn back, she told me we will go slowly and make this trip to Manalar happen, perfect. We reached an abandoned estate where the lead group had already taken a nap. After relaxing we were about to leave when Peter said something nice about the unnoticed calendar hanging in the estate house, this delayed us a bit. Dr. Arun Mohit turned the calendar page to August and we were off to climb the mountain to find the trail, Peter says “Don’t get left behind or the animals will tear you bits and pieces” – the disclaimer. Soon at the top we reached the trail we followed yesterday and the group took off jogging to Manalar. Myself Sundari and Vyas walked the whole journey back to Manalar.
This was the last day and so it would be a cooling of run or so, for me it would be a either a walk or just a nap. When the group started the jog my legs still hurting and as the next stop was for breakfast I asked for a lift from a biker and reached upper Manalar early before anyone. The Independence Day celebration was in full swing for a school of 10 kids, maybe 3 or 4 teachers. The entire town saluted to the flag and music was on – festival mode.
We soon had some parottas, omelettes and half-boils in the canteen nearby and the group took off for the jog, I knew I would miss some beautiful viewpoints and trail, but did not want to risk any serious injury. So myself Sundari Vyas and Balaji had a lazy 10 km walk on the way we took a dip in the stream. The trip had come to a close and members started to leave, while I felt inspired as I had officially become part of CTC and had a glimpse of its way of life. Now it is my turn to live up to it.
This is me and in case you want to hunt me down, just look for a guy who never looks back,