The escape route!


With two three treks in the last one month, I must say, Chennai trekkers is certainly one of the best things that happened to me ! (Should I say thanks to the kameeni ? :P)

After a trek to the Ombattu Gudde on april 10th - 12th, self was doing what he does best, ["generally bumming around doing nothing"] until self spoke to one samyak kaninde about the escape route trek which was happening on from 1st - 3rd May. The nice guy that he was, he said it would be possible to accomodate me despite the trek being heavily overbooked! I immediately signed up for the trek and boy am i glad i did! The nice person that I am, I made it a point (under due thankfulness one could say) to make the trek memorable for the very same samyak kaninde, by irritating him to no end throught the duration of the trek... ;) I also took the time to call up each and every one of my friends and make them all jealous. [Sigh! Sometimes i think why am i so nice? :P]

[Photo by: Mithun]

The trek:
The day:April 30th 2009
The time: 10.00 pm

All of us who were gathered at the guindy bus stop boarded the chartered bus to kodaikanal, the excitement was inevitable! To our dismay the bus we took from Chennai was extremely slow! I think it probably had the engine of a TVS-XL moped! It took a whooping 4 hours just to climb the kodai ghat section! 57kms in around 4 hours! It was averaging 12 kms per hour. In the middle a few of us got down from the bus and choose to walk / jog along with the bus as we were bored sitting inside the bus. Finally we reached kodaikanal around 2.30! We started the trek from the Caps valley at around 4pm! Trekking through through the enchanting Shola forest is something I can never put to words! (read: author is on an all time low on vocabulary and wants the world to move beyond words and read minds :P) . The moment i entered the forest, I just fell in love with the place! The terrain was totally so awesome, it was like walking on a mattress! We saw a half decayed dead bison as soon as we entered the forest and sure enough you could hear them cameras click. After 4 hours of easy hiking we reached the camp site near the berijam lake at 8pm. This surely was a royal trek owing to the fact that this time it wasn't maagi noodles or something we cooked ourselves for lunch/dinner but we actually had cooks which the local guide (mani) hired to cook for us! Hot sambar rice with cabbage porriyal was served for dinner and most of them hit the sack in a couple of empty cottages. And since we had two tents, 8 of us slept in those two playing uno till 12.30 in the night and then we hit the sack. Stepping out of the tent the next morning, one could see awesome mist rising from the road, the lake and all this coupled with the sunlight! You just couldn't ask for more. Lay down and bask in the sun all day, what more do you want from life? A lot of us who woke up a bit early choose to take a walk around the place and see the lake and of course take photographs! The second day of trekking began with a heavy breakfast and we packed biriyani which was cooked by some awesome cooks mani had arranged. Sure enough as we started the trek and a little while later we saw a dead bison again! The second time around people were took photos holding the bison skull by the horns and what not! At around 11am, we encountered a small stream, where most of the crowd jumped in! After a while we came across a beautiful virgin lake (where a few people jumped in again) and we had lunch by the lake. A very heavy and scrumptious lunch! Vegetable biriyani, onion raitha, and pickle! Ravi Ghosh (One of the organizers and my friend) had bought a lot of chocolates and snacks for everyone! The second day trek ended around 3.30 and left everyone wanting for more. We reached a village called kavunji from where we were supposed to go to natampatti and camp for the night. A van was arranged to take people from that village to natampatti in three trips, with 20 people in each trip (read: If i haven't told you already, there were 57 people on the trek and for all those who don't know 60/3 = 20 :P). Some people including me choose to walk / jog behind the van to reach natampatti. Some guy travelled on top of the van i.e on the luggage carrier, sure seemed like fun! After reaching natampatti, the totally enthusiastic crowd couldn't just sit simply! We played a couple games of kabbadi with 12 people playing and a whole lot of spectators and photographers!! Kabbadi or any game for that matter is so much fun especially when your team wins twice in a row! ;-) Only one word could stop the game and that was around 5.30 pm when some one mentioned on word - "waterfall". We hiked a small distance to take a look at the waterfall and then reach a village! We spent time interacting with the village people and looking around the place and got back to the forest guest house by 8pm. After a dose of extremely spicy/hot chutney and semiya for dinner it was time for a camp fire! People were first reluctant to sing and it was only samyak who entertained the lot but in a while the enthusiasm got to the crowd everyone started singing and even started dancing around the fire!! Followed by the camp fire, we had a couple games of UNO before we went to sleep. The first two days of the trek were so much like a picnic or a college tour given the small distances covered and also due to the very enthusiastic and fun loving group! On the third day, everyone was taken by a surprise after two days of slacking! ;-) We actually got to do some decent trekking and we covered approximately a distance of 25kms on the third day. Day 3 was also the day when on more than on occasion we ended up searching for people who we thought were lost. Firstly padmini (a fellow trekker) had told sam and couple other guys who were responsible for sweeping the crowd, to wait for 5 mins as she had to attend to nature's call. She was done with that and the moved ahead with the crowd while sam, ravi , vivek and gowri were waiting for her. After a while gowri and sam got impatient and went ahead to ask if anyone saw her but since she was long gone these guys couldn't have seen her. So these four people started searching for her in every corner of the jungle shouting her name. Meanwhile she reached first set of people who were waiting for everyone to regroup. Thats when the saranya and gang reached the regroup point and informed us that 4 people were asking for padmini and looking for her. Me and brijesh ran back to the sweeper gang who left no stone unturned in searching for padmini! Towards the end of the day yet again when we were waiting for the last 3-4 people to reach kovilur, where the trek ended and wondering why they had not yet come. Brijesh and ravi ghosh decided to go back and search for this gang! Apparently our guide mani also had a sweeper who sweeper had taken these last 4 people directly to place where the jeeps were waiting (via some shortcut) and hence we missed them . Sam came to call us and inform us that the last 4 guys had already reached the jeeps. Finally as we were getting back to the jeeps we realized vivek who was with us went missing and sam ran up again to look for vivek but vivek had taken a different route and already reached the jeep ! Me and ravi walked a little bit to call sam and finally called it a day! With 13-14 people crammed in each jeep we reached from kovilur to munnar and caught the bus to bodi where our chartered bus to Chennai awaited our arrival...

Trekking in the eastern Himalaya – Part 1

On the way to moley

Standing beside the trekkers hut at Sandakphu which is at an altitude of 3636 meters, with temperature hitting five degrees below zero, on the loftiest peak in the Singalila range, posing for a photograph wearing nothing but underwear might not actually sound like your idea of good fun but you are not me and 'to hell with caution', I say! Although it wasn't anything that was a part of the plan but it did happen and I did stand there to embrace the cold wind on my face and my ass, to pose for the photograph. It was shot on raj's camera and sadly, he misplaced his camera on the way back. So if you find a camera in the eastern Himalayas that contains a couple of dudes standing in their undies please be kind to return the camera to the author and please be kind enough to not misuse the photographs. :D

The Sandakphu trek was organized by Diwakar of Chennai trekkers (Chennai trekkers is certainly one of the reasons I am liking Chennai!) and was certainly a fun and adventurous experience. Fifteen had registered to go on this awesome trek, and in accord with that self and Hari had showed up at 5.45 am on 19th of December 2008 at Chennai central. Eleven of us (me, hari, kunal, shaji, diwakar, swaroop, sai, krish, raj, santosh and madhu) had planned to leave from Chennai to New Jalpaiguri by train and another four would join us at New Jalpaiguri and Maneybhanjang. The train journey took about two days and we reached NJP at around 10pm on the second day.Bang outside the NJP railway station there were a host of dhabas/restaurants to cater to our growling stomachs. We also did see a few hotels serving South Indian dishes ;)

We had decided to spend the night at NJP and found ourselves a lodge near the railway station. Although NJP is in the plains, it must have been around 19 degrees at 6 in the morning which was pretty cold comparing to Chennai standards. After taking bath with ice cold water we had breakfast at NJP and left for Maneybhanjang in two Tata Sumos. We were 13 now because of the fact that Horst and Remy joined us at NJP , Alexadara and Ramani uncle would join us at Maneybhanjang. We reached Maneybhanjang by 3.30pm and took refuge at the kanchenjunga lodge for the night. The evening was spent walking around Maneybhanjang while the guides and porters were being arranged for the trek the next day by a couple of us. Maneybhanjang is a small village that is mostly used by trekkers as a base camp for treks into the Singalila national park. The national park is part of the eastern Himalayas and the two highest peaks of West Bengal, Sandakphu (3630 m) and Phalut (3600 m) are located on the Singalila ridge and inside the park.

Our trekking plan was as follows:

Day 1: Maneybhanjang to Garibas via tumling [18km]

Day 2: Garibas to Sandakphu [12km]

Day 3: Sandakphu to Phalut [21 km]

Day 4: Phalut to Gorkhey [18 km]

Day 5: Gorkhey to Rimbik [21km]

We had two buffer days just in case nature decided to play hard and in case of any other emergencies. We carried sleeping mats, tents, sleeping bags, a stove and lots of extra stuff which was unnecessary on this trekking route given the availability of trekkers huts and cooked food all the way upto phalut but the plan was to carry all that in case of emergency and we were hiring quite a number of porters. I should say I was tempted to ask for a porter to carry my back-breaking back pack, (Ah! the luxury of traveling without the back pack) but I decided to do without one.

It would get dark by five in the evening in these places and as it turned six on the clock and some of were enjoying whiskey followed by food at 7.30. Most of us hit the sack by 11pm. The trek was to begin the next day and the very thought was exciting.

The post seems to be getting pretty big and so I ll break here and continue with this on my next post.

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