Friday, February 13, 2015

Nagala - Leap of Faith - 7,8 Feb 2015

I suppose most people like swimming, especially non-swimmers. Humans are born as natural swimmers (don't believe? watch this) and many lose the ability soon after. What a boon life jackets are for non-swimmers - to be able to enjoy floating on water is priceless. And even more unbelievable feats as we did on this wonderful and ever memorable trekking trip to swimmers paradise in lesser praised Eastern Ghats.

After Dudhsagar, Nagala has perhaps become the hottest trail organized by BTC. We started from Terminal 3, Majestic in Karnataka state transport to Puttur on Friday 6, 2015. Virander and Srikanth were leading 20 member party, with an even mix of experienced trekkers and relative newbies. Popular mother and daughter (Rajalakshmi and Vaishnavi) duo were coming for second time to Nagala! With bit of struggle, we managed to stuff our heavy luggages. Neer shared his hot paranthas for a late after dinner snack amidst reminiscing of earlier treks.

Early morning at Nagalapuram

Puttur and Nagalapuram village
After few hours of not so sound sleep, we reached Puttur quarter past 4 in the morning - later than usual time that we missed the first bus to Nagalapuram village. Keeping our luggages in one spot, we gossiped until the next bus arrived around 5 AM. The bus barely stopped to let us (and few other passengers) to get in before starting off as if late to an appointment. Within 10-20 minutes, most of us were catching much needed naps. Few minutes before 6 AM, we reached the village and yet again kept our baggages together and waited - this time for nearby marriage hall owners to respond to our refreshment needs. A cup of tasty tea was consumed and beauty of village morning relished until then.

Idlis and Dosas
Hot idlis, vada and dosas served near the tea shop satiated our morning hunger. We packed some for lunch and local guides Giri and Hari got rice, vegetables and utensils to cook for dinner that day. Around 9 AM, we lugged our baggages onto open roof goods carrier - spacious just enough for us all to stand (after some bags were kept atop the carrier in front). Painful but scenic 50 minute ride brought us to base of the hill. By then, Sun was merrily shining, promising us a hot day.

Starting the much awaited trek
Those who had opted for life jacket (thanks a lot to Srikanth for getting them on rent for us) got them added to our already heavy backpack. As usual, we then had introduction session after forming a 'straight' circle. And off we went, in hope of awesome trek ahead - Nagala was every bit wonderful as advertised and more.

Starting from base
Lake at the base
A scenic lake (surrounded at one side by dam) with trees devoid of leaves greeted us at the base. The temple was fully visible (gets immersed during monsoon), added to the beauty. We followed a well worn path - strewn with boulders and trees around. A dog joined us too and stayed till with the very end, never barking and behaving itself (except for a small incident on Sunday :P) The itinerary wasn't pressing and we relaxed often where there was sufficient shade. With natural streams to come, there wasn't an issue with water too.

One of the numerous streams on the way
Given months past monsoon, the streams weren't full and it was easy to cross most of them easily without getting wet. Stones, natural or strategically placed helped too. About an hour into the trek, came the first instance of having to necessarily wade across water. Sandals with straps are best for this trek, but many were on shoes. Some removed, some went ahead wearing them. A short distance ahead, we took extended break on the rocks (despite the Sun) - the cool stream passing in between was so inviting for the legs.

Half an hour later, we met another large group going ahead, presumably having just taken rest under the shade. We decided to stay back for a break ourselves - this time passing around snacks and fruits as well. Only 15 minutes later, we neared the first pool of the trek - the noon Sun baking us. The local guides really did know the area well and given so many natural pools, we could pick that was free. What followed is something we all are gonna remember for a long long time.

5 feet jump
Virander got the first dive/jump going - from about 5 feet. Most of us followed, with snaps and videos being taken. The water wasn't cold once one had a dip. Swimmers and confident non-swimmers with life jackets went into deeper waters ahead, floating and swimming and enjoying the natural pool. First timers with life jacket were encouraged by others and they were too overcoming their instinct. Some even built up courage to take the 5 feet plunge, occasionally helped along by Virander.

First nervous jump

10 feet jump
Soon, one found a rock to jump about 10 feet. Encouraged by earlier jump, some followed - though I was confident in life jacket's ability to keep me afloat, there was hesitation and fear before I jump. And it was in the wrong fashion - neither dive (which I don't know) nor straight jump, but flat out on stomach. Physics let me know just how wrong it was by hurting me, but the feeling didn't last long.

Under water beauty
20 feet jump
Like an exponential mathematical progression, we were suddenly faced with monster of a jump. Thanks to Giri, the guide. He coolly climbed a cliff and jumped without any need of life jacket - from about 20 feet or higher. We were all dumbstruck. We didn't even realize that the water was so deep for such a jump. He even demonstrated a second time, with even better acrobatics - swirling in air before hitting water. We still couldn't believe. Naturally, there were others now who wanted to try. Srikanth and Neer were amongst the first to try (don't remember if someone else did too) and that drew more, myself included.

One for lifelong remembrance
Only when I looked down from near the edge (too afraid to go tip of edge), did the reality hit hard - instinct took over and all sorts of excuses came out. Virander started recalling his aborted bungee jumping. Those who had succeeded were coming back for more. I aborted twice, before finally mistering some unknown reserve of faith and leaped, squatting and holding my knees (to reduce hurting on hitting the water). It still hurt my bum, but whew! I did it! The body immersing fully inside water and buoyed by the life jacket - all within a second or so. That too, I don't know swimming! And did it again - this time straight (not squatting). Oh, such an elation, such a memorable achievement. Soon, more of them overcame their inner demons and immersed in that inexplicable pure bliss.

Hunger gnawed after that swimming exercise. Packed ildis, chappathis from Rajalakshmi and other items were gobbled in a hurry. As Murphy's law would have it, we found the separate chutney pack after finishing off all the idlis with sambhar.

Marching on towards peak
More climb to reach camp spot
Soon, we were marching again to one of the peaks. We hadn't changed our wet clothes, as more water sport awaited us. We passed a large group (looked like fun camp for parents and their kids) from CTC, its famous founder Peter was in attendance too. It felt longer, but half an hour later - 3:30 PM, we reached the resting place - another natural wonder - rocks providing shelter. Numerous trekkers camping there had turned the underside black.
Fun ain't over for the day
After brief rest and dumping our luggage, we trekked past peak to pool number 2. It had a natural slide to pool! Again, some daredevils like Amir, Srikanth and Neer showed us how to do it. And yet again, Virander was ready to push those who needed that extra nudge. Only little problem was climbing back on a tricky rocky path. So we started going in with our sandals or had them thrown in (Arvind even lost his slippers - as they didn't have straps - but recovered later).

 Natural slide (better than Wonderla)

There was also another about 15 feet jump - but only few attempted it. The pool was clear and pebbles were visible at the end where it was shallow. Some had fish bites too! As sun was setting, it became quite cold to be in water and we wound up soon enough. Easily, the slide was better than anything in Wonderla :P

Planes, Stars, Satellites and Shooting Stars
After we had changed into dry clothes (spreading life jackets on a tree close by and wet clothes on boulders above), we came back to the peak for another feast - for the eyes this time. Stars everywhere. Moon hadn't risen yet (or not visible in our range). Everybody began pointing out constellations and galaxies and pole stars. Discussions included that one can spot satellites and another wished to see a meteor burning.

First came the aeroplane (most likely originating or going towards Chennai - which is close by). Then someone spotted a satellite (might even be ISS, not sure) - by its slow movement and lack of blinking lights. And, hold your breadth, we saw the bright orange/yellow flare of Shooting Star! Wow, wishes do come true :) And then there was heated discussion if Astronomy and Astrology are related and whether or not Astrology could have some logic.

Sumptuous Dinner (and nuisance Rats)
Meanwhile, Giri and Hari had brought plenty of logs for dinner and camp fire. Led by Rajalakshmi, dinner preparations was in full swing. Rats began poking around our bags. We tried our best to shoo them away by shining our torches. Finally, someone kept a chilly which they took away and didn't bother us much after.

We spread our sleeping mats and sat in a row - patiently waiting to be served. We had all got bowls and spoons for this purpose. Highlight was the dal prepared by Rajalakshmi. Everybody liked it but sadly quantity wasn't enough for a second helping. Snacks, pickle and curd were passed around to add taste. The doggie got its fill too.

So tired we were that few minutes after dinner, we spread out to sleep instead of playing games. It was only around 8:30 PM. Guide Giri ensured fire lasted the night (which keeps away any wild animals too). It wasn't that cold for a February night atop a hill, but sleeping bag/blanket was cozy past midnight.

Camping spot
Crazy morning
By 6 AM, we started getting up. Though it wasn't uninterrupted sleep, we woke up refreshed (and a complaining body). We took turns to freshen up (either going up or to the stream below). The doggie woke up - disoriented or hungry, not sure which. But it gave a scare to a soundly sleeping guy, who almost hurt himself by the distracting noise and jerking awake.
And then, Swathi decided she had to slide (having passed on last evening - we all teased that she must have tossed around whole night to come to the decision). Now, when one starts, others follow (Jita, Rajalakshmi and Vaishnavi). Virander nudged Swathi and then others did after lot of persuasion. Virander and Srikanth went in as well. Motivated by slide, Swathi and Jita decided it was time for next step - 15 feet jump. Virander and Srikanth helped again and they did it more than once.

Assorted Breakfast
Out came maggi and MTR ready-to-eat packets as well as cakes and biscuits. Pandemonium broke when someone opened Kesari bath! Heated MTR packets were tasty (dunno about healthy). We cleaned up and packed to trek for pool 3.
Knee deep wading through streams
We reached the stream from where we had branched yesterday and continued further. At a good spot, we filled water from the flowing stream. Our backpacks were still heavy and shoulders aching. Spirits were high though. The path was strewn with boulders and trees around, very much a continuation of yesterday's walk. About an hour later we reached our destination - a few breaks in between and wading through streams (some a little tricky and knee deep) and of course, loads of snaps.

Novel dish cleaning - Fish
Pool 3
Near the pool, the soiled vessels and plates were put into water - they were cleaned thoroughly by fishes. We were raring to plunge into water again. This one was much larger than the previous two, with a pleasant surprise hidden. Cliff on the left side wasn't scalable but the right one was. Virander and Srikanth were already scaling that side and again led the jumping efforts. First about 10-15 feet and then another bigger one.

Hidden gem of a small waterfall
Further ahead, the rocks formed almost a cave like narrow passage which led to another small pool. But what wasn't so evident was the small waterfall (just about 5-10 feet tall) hidden behind. 
Selfie by the falls
Though it is no where compared to some of the waterfalls in western ghats, the forceful water flow made it worth while and we had to take turns to get a massage. We waited patiently for everyone to come, most importantly Vivek with his water proof Gopro camera to take pic :P

Co-ordinated Jumps
Back to entrance of the pool, almost everybody wanted to jump. Only tricky part was climbing from water onto the cliff - few found it easy enough and others had to be lent a helping hand. While some of us were standing, ready to jump, an idea seeped that we should jump one by one in a line. And of course, it had to be videoed :P. 2-3 times we did it and when it was time to go, it was with heavy heart - but with a promise to perhaps visit again :)
 Awesome video capture and editing by Vivek

What a Lunch!
We crossed the knee deep stream and stopped at a large rocky place for lunch. Anything remaining was brought out - Khakra, biscuits, cakes, bread jam, fruits, snacks, even chutney powder. Cakes were distributed like some prasadam at a temple. One full packet of mashed bread was opened, somehow mixed with jam and then gobbled.

Long trek back
After all the enjoyment, it was time to trek back to reality. And a long distance too. We walked and walked and walked, with plenty of breaks and filling our bottles again and again (courtesy the merry Sun) and glucose/electrolyte. During one break, Virander showed how to open a plant's stem and get the water rich edible part. At another, we were pulling Vaishnavi's leg by creating fake logic that one's age should be double the standard he/she is studying. She caught on soon and was clear in actual logic! We met other groups on the way too. One team was rappelling from a cliff.
Time to go back :(
Our goods transport
After more than 3 hours, near the lake, we took group pic and then it was time was another wild ride. This time, we arranged our bags much better and got comfortable than the Saturday ride. Round of refreshing tea - again from the same shop. His bill amount last time was 200 and this time as well. When we asked prices of tea/ginger-tea/etc, he calculated again and came up with 150 :P Meanwhile, Vivek got everyone to pose a nasty look :D

We got into crowded bus back to Puttur. Bus conductor was good enough to allow us in despite our voluminous backpacks. Most of us got seats as we moved ahead. Our small group in front started discussing movies and treks and noted movies which sounded good to be watched. Dinner was at a restaurant which had added the shortened name 'pk'! It was empty when we entered and they were bringing materials to cook from outside once we ordered. It took so long that we had to cancel our last few orders to reach bus stand for the bus back to Bangalore. When the bus came, localites rushed to occupy seats and many had to get down disappointed as they didn't know about our 20 reserved seats.

Feedback was lively with everybody praising BTC's well planned event. Total cost per head came to be about Rs 1225 (including BTC fund and life jacket rent!). It was pretty cold as we head towards Bangalore and with drivers fast driving and all the shaking, we hardly slept. Around 4, we started getting down at various stops according to our nearest locations. All in all, one of the best trek ever :)
Picture and Video credits - yours truly and Vivek Sangwan

Monday, February 2, 2015

Burying the ghost of Makalidurga - 25 Jan 2015

Among 30-odd treks, the only time I hurt myself to warrant a visit to doctor was Makalidurga (June 2010). And that was only a sprain that made me limp about a week. Yet, it's been sort of mental block and I finally cleared it, thanks to BTC - my favorite trekking club so far. Having gone more than four months since last trek added extra motivation.

Curious to know the train route, I googled 56503 and surprised to see the very first link giving me schedule! (along with expected average delay - which turned out to very optimistic). Metro to Bypanahalli was very convenient given staircase leading directly to platform. I was roaming on the platform in hope of spotting fellow trekkers, but as happens often, others spotted me first. Soon, all four of us (Shwetha, Kavitha, Manoj and yours truly) boarding at Bypanahalli were together, waiting for the passenger train, apparently very notorious for its delay. Organizers Deepthy and Virander kept us informed when the train left Cantonment station as well coach position.

Train arrived about 10 minutes late (8 AM) and two minute stop turned out to be twenty minutes. It was good to meet frequent trekkers again (Ankit, Vikram, Srikanth, Aman) and talk about past treks. We had three compartments to ourselves (32 trekkers). Dumb Charades lost in favor of Anthakshri and soon we were shouting ourselves hoarse much to the chagrin of fellow travellers. We even got warned by a constable at one of the station, after which we turned to less noisy Dumb Charades. Highlight of Anthakshri was the Twenty20 mode we played - sometimes just one word repeated multiple times! :D and the fight to distinguish between and . Dumb Charades got us going almost to Makalidurga, interesting ones being Aflatoon, Khwahish, Paap Ko Jalaa Kar Raakh Kar Doonga (actually given to us as Zulm not Paap!), Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

More than an hour late, we reached Makalidurga few minutes before 10:30 AM. Very hot day, most of us hadn't got cap - too hot for January. People preferred to keep their sweaters on to avoid tan! Introduction session on platform was overlooked by curious passengers. As usual, we didn't leave the 'straight' circle joke. The train was stopping again long time, so we started along the tracks. Immediately, Ankit, Vikram and myself were reminiscing Dudhsagar and travails of walking on tracks. Given the blue sky and irritating sunshine, we named this trek as Doopsagar. Thankfully, we could hop to mud trail on our left after a short distance.

About 1-1.5 km walk later, we were at the base of Makalidurga. We joked ourselves that this was just the warm up on a hot day. The two organizers divided the group into two with good mixture of first timers and frequent trekkers (and importantly, atleast one photographer in each group :P). The dry and arid conditions and the not so green trees and bushes were clearly indicating tough trek ahead.

But then, we were bunch of enthusiastic trekkers - talking, sharing, responding to first timer's queries, etc. The two kids in our party were lively and entertaining. Ankit's bag of chocolate is so famous in BTC that his chocolate aren't safe anymore and gets distributed amongst his friends to make it last till return journey.

We took frequent breaks to catch our breadth and hydrate adequately - and of course, photos to share on social networks. Selfies were still in trend. Gradual slope (rather than steep climb throughout like Rangaswamy betta) was a relief given the rising mercury. It didn't help that we had started late (thanks to passenger train giving way to commercial goods trains). Surrounding hills and greenery were pleasing, the beauty enhanced considerably by the lake at foot hills.

Shady place were few and far apart - we didn't miss a chance to stop by. Fruit juice and oranges started making rounds. The two group demarcation disappeared as more natural slow/fast trekkers replaced it. There was a scary moment when a fellow trekker lost his balance and steadied without falling - but resulted in my camera getting scratched. Thankfully, it wasn't on and was only a minor dent outside (unlike my last trip here).

Slowly and steadily we climbed on, while other early trekkers were on their way back. When the outer broken fort wall appeared, it was a sigh of relief, though we could see that there still was a fair distance to climb. The dried bushes, some tall enough to reach our chest, did their best to scrape us as we went.

After reaching the top, funnily, some of us wanted to climb more :P Why doesn't the body acclimatization work faster ;) While we waited for everyone to reach the peak, we took full toll of photographers and scenery. Trees without leaves were enticing too, but full greenery in monsoon surely must be a treat to experience.

We trekked a bit further to stop by the temple atop. Within minutes, it was time for lunch. A very unique experience - instead of packing lunch on the way, everybody brought something on his own. A heartfelt thanks to all those who brought home made delicacies - stuffed paranthas, mixed veg rice, etc Plenty of fruits and snacks too. I don't suppose I have ever been some place just for a picnic thingy, but surely this is how picnic lunches must be. We were so full and content that not many wanted chocolates afterwards.

Soon after, we took group pic and started back as we had to catch the same passenger back (which had to be two hours late for us to catch :P) Climbing down was much faster, but of course required caution. Some slipped but thankfully nothing harmful. The fast batch reached the station to get train status and inform others. By the time everyone came, there wasn't enough time for a group pic by the name board.

Pleasingly, there were enough seats to sit (some of us climbing up and adjusting). As the only cost for train travel, trip amount was grand total of 30 rupees. BTC collected Rs 50 (20 allocated for BTC funds). For many of us, our travel cost to station was much higher :P Feedback session was mostly positive and some good suggestions too (the shared lunch idea was given by one of the trekker previously - so kudos to BTC for implementing it). Long stops (sometimes more than half an hour at a station) was irritating, what with mosquitoes joining the party (what with our talk centering on leeches and blood donation and all). Nearly half the party got down at Bypanahalli to avoid further delay as a consequence :D And some discovered that Metro was useful after all, even though only two small stretches are operational yet.

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