A TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant
Author: K. Ramasubramaniyan
On the 9th Jan a “small group” of about 75 people started our journey from Chennai Egmore to Salem, where we met the rest of the gang from Bangalore and Trichy.
In the station we got all our luggage loaded into the vans that the organizers had arranged for. From here we proceeded to the starting point of our trek.
The place is called Puliyanjolai. On reaching this place, we changed to clothes that will be best suited for trek, loaded the snacks, water bottles and glucose that had been arranged by the organizers into our backpacks and started the trek – destination Kolli.
There were about 90 trekkers who were ready to explore the beauty called Kolli.
After walking along about 40 minutes, we reached a small but a beautiful, clean and scenic stream. None of us wanted to go any further without taking dip into this stream. Our captain Peter said we will have a 10 min break (????).
Thats all was needed. Almost everyone were ready to take a plunge into the water.
The 10 minutes was never a 10 minutes, as anybody could have guessed. It was about 30 minutes before we resumed our trek. We had to wade through a rocky terrain. I would love to see the same stream in its full flow during the rainy season.
About 1:30pm we settled down amidst the rocks to have our lunch, as our leader informed that we may not have any more steams until we are close to our destination. The entire gang spread across the landscape and had our lunches, which was neatly packed in aluminium foil by the organizers.
By around 2:15 we once again resumed our trek with clear instructions from Peter that we have to start moving at a good pace to reach the destination for the night.
Now the trek was a real trek and not just a walk. The slope had began to climb steeply and we had to use all our mental strength to stay on the move. Myself being a first time trekker, found it a bit hard, so I was progressing rather slowly letting most of the experienced trekkers move ahead. Hats off to organizers, who never let anyone alone and were always accompanying people who needed help.
After climbing for about 2 hours I was very exhausted, as this is my first trek. For climbing further I needed lots of stamina. So I had to take small 2 min breaks in between to catch my breath. We then reached the top of a huge rock from where we can see the entire valley. The rest of the team had already reached this spot and were sightseeing and encouraging all the trekkers who have made to that point.
We had some awesome view from here, relaxed a few minutes and then resumed our trek.
On the way we met some locals who regularly come to these places from the Kolli town to collect twigs and logs for domestic usage. We were moved when we saw one of the men carrying loads of logs in his head, but one of his leg is not fully capable of supporting him. We wonder how they are able to cover so much of distance everyday. We were huffing and panting, but for these people its like a walk on a flat surface.
After walking along the trail for about 2 more hours, we arrived at a beautiful village. It was a plain in an elevated area. Located about 2000 ft above sea level this looked like a different world. We were able to see various crops being cultivated here. The group proceeded to the village nearby and to a peak beyond to take a 360 degree view of the entire valley. A part of the group which was already tired, proceeded in a different route to reach the original destination.
Four of us went along with the group that went to explore the peak, but in between entered the village to fill our water bottles. This is where all the fun began.
Myself, Rajesh and Dinesh were the brave ones who were all first timers, but still decided to let the group ahead and decided the follow them after drinking water and filling our bottles.
This is when we befriended the most funny character of the entire lot, Ambarish.
By the time we started to climb the peak, we already saw the group has almost reached the peak. The time was around 5:30pm when we started the climb. Myself, Dinesh and Rajesh climbed the steep, but Ambarish decided to wait in the base and asked us to call him if the group were to take a different route while returning. We started climbing through the gardens of the villagers, then through dense grasslands. the grass had grown up to knee level. After climbing for about 45 minutes, we realised it has already started to get dark.
Though we had our LED torches and the moon was glowing at full, it was really difficult making our way through the grass and slippery gravels. When we cleared the grass and came to the rocks, we were not sure which way the others went. We yelled calling a few of them but there was no response.
Now we had 2 options with us. Either proceed along or get back and wait for others. We thought we will make it to the top, but it was getting really difficult with the night and we almost lost our track. Exploring any further will mean that we will not only head in the wrong way, but also will slow down the others.
Since it was getting darker and late, and there was no sign of Peter and the group, we thought we will return back to the base of the peak and wait for the others. When we turned back we were not able to recognise the way through which we had climbed. The only saving grace was Ambarish. With his white shirt, he was sitting on a rock like a light house.
We had his direction in mind and started climbing back down only to realise that we are moving along the wrong direction. Somehow we managed to track back to the village after some jumps on plants, falling down, sliding and some minor bruises.
We waiting on the way to our original destination in a place where we will be able to get a view of others. After about 30 minutes, we saw the rest of the gang returning back. We joined the group and proceeded further to our final destination of the day – Arapaleeswarar Temple.
We thought we have almost made, but soon realised we are not going to reach the temple before crossing a couple of peaks, slopes and a few streams. Since it was a full moon day we did not have much difficulty in walking in the dark, especially with a large group and people who knew the trail. Once again I have to mention the efforts of the organisers in helping the entire group. Its a proper example of team work.
By the time we reached Arapaleeswarar Temple, it was already 9:00pm and we were just famished. Some of them started preparing maggi for the group, which was sent up in the vans. Some of us ordered for parottas, dosa and whatever that was available in the small eat out that was there.
That was the end of day one. The entire lot went to sleep on the Mandapam of Arapaleeswarar Temple with our sleeping bags and sleeping mats.
Day 2 started early for most of us. The group took bath the stream behind the temple and had breakfast in the same so called fast food centre. The agenda was to explore the caves near the falls. Most of the group stayed back as it was going to be a trek with strict time lines and people who were expected not to slow down the entire group. So few of us stayed back. Since I had sprained my right knee during one of the falls or slides the previous day, I too decided to stay back as I know I will be slowing down everyone if I join them. The pain in the knee was a bit nagging and it really slowed my normal walk.
But curiosity always get the better of me. Myself, Rajesh and Dinesh decided that instead of waiting without doing anything, we would go to falls on our own and take a bath. Though I have been to the falls in the June of 2002, I wanted to see how it is during this season. We were never disappointed!
We started climbing down the steps – 750 of them. We had to go down at least 500 ft to reach the falls. Though the steps were man made, it was perfectly in sync with the nature. We clicked some photos on the way. Though the battery in my camera had already given up, Rajesh and Dinesh always had theirs.
The climbing down was not as easy as I expected with my sprained knee. I had to take one step at a time and it was really slow. Though I was initially very disappointed that I was not able to join the others, I now really felt that I had made the right decision. I would have slowed others drastically.
Once we reached the falls, it just took our breath away. As I had mentioned earlier, though I have seen it during the summer, I never realised it is going to be this majestic during this season. Now I really wonder how it will be during the monsoon.
The water was falling down from a height of about 300 ft and the mist that forms after the water hits the rocks was more than enough for taking bath. It was never going to be possible for anyone to go near the falls to take bath. People who enjoy a shower bath in the bathrooms should get a feel of this. The shower bath in our bathrooms are nothing compared to this.
The mist was forming a natural rainbow which was just a delight to watch.
Again for people who are used to the artificial rainbow in MGM should see this.
We finished our bath, of course in the mist, and climbed back to the temple where all our luggage and a few others who opted out of the 2nd day trek were waiting. We had our lunch and waited for the rest of the team.
The rest of the gang arrived at about 2:00pm and had their lunch and decided to trek down to a point where they can join the others. After they started we stated our journey in the vans downhill towards Salem railway station. On the way we clicked some photographs of the setting sun.
This was the most interesting part. Except for some 10 people everyone arrived at the Salem Junction on time and unloaded all the luggage from the vans to the platform. Peter and the other trekkers were yet to reach and we had no clue when they would reach. Most of our luggage were in the van which had been with them for bringing them from Karavalli, the foothill to Salem.
We learnt that the others had slowed down, because one of the members needed help. I have to mention that Ram Prasad, one of the organisers, immediately volunteered to stay back with him and help him in completing the trek, though he was fully aware that he would miss the train if he did so. Later we learnt that they had taken a late night bus from Salem to reach Chennai. Hats off to you Ram Prasad!
Peter and a few others who were trekking down finally reached the platform just 5 minutes before the train’s departure time. That’s when we found two luggage were missing. That was mine and Rajesh’s. We searched in the pile of luggage that we had unloaded into the platform and in the ones that had come late, but we never found it.
Chezhian, one of the organisers, suggested that we can go back to the vans and check if anything is missed. To our disappointments, we found it was not there. When we returned back to the platform, the train was about to start. Chezhian was confident that someone should have already loaded the luggage into the train. So we started searching all the compartments in which CTC members were sitting. Luckily one of them had brought our bags and had it safe. That was a great relief to both of us.
That was the end of my first trek with CTC and now eagerly waiting for the next one.