Why does one go on a trek? A break from the monotony of city life? To enjoy a tryst with nature? To see sights that one cannot otherwise see? Difficult to answer since there are times when a trek seems to be all strain and no rewards and, yet, one returns from the trek with an indefinable sense of satisfaction.
This trek to Nagalapuram is difficult to describe because one is unable to answer the most common questions that are normally asked about a trek. For example there is no answer to the question of where we did go to since there was no concrete goal – a waterfall, the top of a peak or even a temple – which was achieved. Nor indeed can one cite the height to which one climbed since we ascended only to descend and then walked along a stream bed. Was it a pleasant stroll in verdant surroundings? Not at all since the most part of the trek was jumping boulder to boulder and, thus, one was constrained to look at where one was placing his feet rather than taking in the sights.
The drive from Chennai to Nagalapuram – with Vinod and Chandru - was fun for the usual reason – great company. Once there, we had to walk about 3 Kms to reach the starting point of the trek. As usual, there were some good Samaritans who directed us with such great effect that we meandered all over the landscape before arriving at a waterfall (a mild apology for one since it was composed of minor trickles flowing down a rocky outcrop) which was to serve as the starting point of the trek. A small cave with a Shivling and a Nandi served a temple at the right end of the pool at the base of the waterfall.
Vinod and I, as usual, were into the water without any more ado. Vinod successfully climbed up the rock outcrop to the top of the waterfall in his customary exhibition of a reversal of the evolutionary process. Little did I know that I would have to later emulate this feat, in a minor way, as the day progressed!
Having done with the bathing, the three of us wended our way up the hillock that bordered the waterfall. Loose stone and nettles made it a reasonable painful process with Chandru complaining humorously that the whole process was a conspiracy to convert him to a bag of bones. I was too busy slipping and slithering to come up with witty repartee (at least I had an excuse for not being witty…normally I have no excuse to cover up my lack of wits!).
Having managed the climb, with little loss to life and limb, Vinod pointed out to what looked like a 75 degree incline and said, “Now I think we descend this gradual slope to reach the stream-bed. Let me check first.”
Every now and then one comes across the fact that a word that means one thing to you means something entirely different to another but this mistake in the understanding of the word ‘gradual’ bid fair to reduce Chandru and I into quivering bags of jelly – literally, as Chandru pointed out, since we were contemplating the possibility of a much more rapid descent than Vinod was considering! At this point Chandru refused point-blank from proceeding with what he refuses to accept as a trek! Having sprained a couple of fingers a few days back - while mistaking his staircase for a ski-slope – he had a valid problem. While I was hunting around for a reasonable excuse to drop out Vinod called from below to proceed and, failing an acceptable excuse, I did.
The first twenty feet or so of the ‘gradual slope’ involved walking on loose rock, which made it impossible to maintain a footing. Adopting my customary elegant mode of travel I sat down on the rock-face and slowly slithered down till I reached a place where the footing was better and I had a rock wall to hold on to while descending. Thereafter, the descent assumed the customary level of difficulty and without any great ado I managed to reach the stream-bed and rejoined Vinod.
The problem with frequent treks is that a gurgling stream meandering in the midst of verdant forests seems to be nothing worth writing home about unlike the case in my city-bound days. The sense of ineffable peace that descends on you while trekking in such surroundings was upon me despite the fact that the trekking involved jumping from boulder to boulder more often than not.
This path ought to have been named ‘Butterfly Alley’ as Vinod called it. Every few feet on ran into a big swarm of them in myriad colors. My maiden attempts at amateur photography, however, failed miserably since they just vanished within micro-seconds of my unlimbering my camera. A more camera-shy bunch of beings I have never come across in my life!
The boulder-to-boulder jumping has its pitfalls and once my shoes got wet they started emulating skates. This then meant that the shoes remained permanently wet since at every other step I would skate off the boulder and into the water. This happened so often that Vinod started taking it as the norm in lieu of the concern he exhibited the first couple of times.
We walked (jumped? Skated?) till about 12 PM when we decided to take a dip in a convenient pool there and turn back. There are few pleasures to equal a cool dip after a hot trek and a drink of cool water when you are thirsty. After having pleased ourselves thus we wended our way back.
Vinod was surprised about the difficulty I expressed about the initial descent to the stream bed and asked me to follow him closely in order not to avoid the easy path he had taken. I had no idea that his easy path would lead me to a position where the only way forward was a climb up a near-vertical rock face for about 20-30 feet!
Since flinging myself on the ground and going ‘Waaah!’ was not on considering that we were standing precariously on a six inch wide ledge, there was scant option but to try my rock-climbing skills. Having declined my only opportunity to climb rocks at Ramangaram – with rope harness and all – whatever skills were necessary had to be developed in situ. A chap who is notorious for his two left feet and all-thumbs hands is unlikely to approach any such job with great confidence. Confidence or no, I had the climb to do and I did do it. How I did it is a mystery to me but what it did to me I have since known with all the muscles that I didn’t know existed in my upper body screaming non-stop in pain for the next three days!
The rest of the tale is anti-climactic. We reached the initial waterfall pool with the temple in the corner. While we were taking a dip in the pool, the sun reflected off the pool to the roof of the cave housing the temple and created such an enchanting canopy of light that I couldn’t take my eyes off it for as long as the light show was on!
When I look back on the trek, I can recollect many memorable incidents but nothing that qualifies as a highlight. It is the accumulation of warm moments that made it a joyous experience and not the heights you climbed. Much like life, isn’t it?