Sunday, February 1, 2009
Sri Venkateswara National Park
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Friday, journey starts
"Where are you?" asked Vivek over phone. "I'm in the bus" I answered. "But there are at least 50 buses in the bus stand, how do I figure out in which you are," replied hurried and frustrated Vivek. It was already 9 in the night, 5 minutes left for the bus to depart, and Vivek still at hunt for the right bus to board for Tirupathi, but finally he found me. We made it to Renigunta rather early in the morning, where we were supposed to meet the rest of CTC gang coming from Chennai, and thought it to be a good idea to sleep in the railway platform rather than noisy bus stand. Indeed, it turned out to be a nice idea until the sweeper woke us up.
Saturday, the beautiful pools and deadly climb
By this time, guys from Hyderabad and other 2 guys from Bangalore had reached Renigunta. Peter was there waiting for us over breakfast along with 50 people from Chennai. Soon, we were joined by the rest of the team and we proceeded towards Kodur with frequent su-su-potty breaks. It was a pretty big convoy of 8 cars and 9 bikes. After leaving the highway, we went through dusty, bumpy, and narrow jeep track leaving the cars covered with dust and scratches from bushes. We drove till a point after which it was not possible for most cars to drive past. All the vehicles were parked there and food, water, tents, utensils, etc., were distributed.
It was already 11:30, dry terrain, and under hot sun. But our initial spirits were high enough to be dampened by all these. We proceeded through the bushes following the trail, chatting with each other; some new, some old faces, talking about, among other things, "work." This needs to be emphasized here. People are so engulfed in their robotic worklife that even on breaks, they find it difficult not to talk about work. Work has become major part of the life people spend doing and want to get identified by what they do. What a miserable condition.
All of us were interrupted when Peter found that we were on the wrong trail and started to trace back. We had to enter the river bed and follow it in the direction opposite to flow. Even though the river was dry, remains of monsoon and water flowing through this area was evident by the small pools of water, soft ground underneath our feet, and slippery mud in which few of us soaked their shoes. Above us was clear sky frequented by chirping birds, parrot, peacock, eagles.
Some more walk in the spongy soil covered with foliage of dead aquatic plants. We waited under the shade of a tree which while Peter figured out which way to proceed. I cannot but be amazed at his ability to find ways and navigate using just the topographic Google map and GPS. It seemed as if this national park was his childhood playground, knowing every nooks and corner.
We then proceeded ahead in the riverbed, stepping on and crossing over the big and small rocks. Initially, it was a little difficult to walk on this uneven rocky terrain with some rocks slipping beneath our feet, but soon we were used to it if not comfortable. Walking on a rocky terrain is much more energy consuming than a even climb because one loses energy jumping up and down the rocks, maneuvering feet, managing balance. The moss which met their fate with drying water had taken the shape of shining green color over the rocks. At places, we found nice variations in color on the rock, from green to black to orange.
This place was abundant with crystal-clear water sources, but people not so accustomed with conditions in uncivilized places were finding it difficult to fill their empty bottles. Someone asked me while I was filling my bottle, "is that drinkable?" "Yes" I said, but found that question rather funny. Are there ways to check the purity of water in such conditions or is it that we are going to get supply of bottled mineral water after a while? I do not have any idea about the chemical composition, but water was clear. I have never seen such clarity and purity of water ever. One could see through it the rocky bottom of these shallow pools or the aquatic plants that inhabited them.
We had not walked that much, but since it was 1 in the afternoon, the usual time of lunch in the city, decision was made to jump in a pool to let the water wash off our sweat and so we did. Some changed to their swimsuits and some did not have that patience and jumped straight away. It was a nice pool with mostly chest deep water and rocky bottom, but Samyak was still afraid to get into it fearing his capability to stand in water! He was persuaded to get in and there it was, everybody throwing water on each other, screaming. The fun of playing in water can never be adequately described in words. We finished our water fun session, had parata with pickle, and proceeded ahead.
I was slow as usual trailing with the last group of people, astonished by the beauty and the hugeness of nature. We were following the almost dry river in opposite direction of flow, jumping from one rock to another so as to prevent our shoes from getting wet. We were surrounded by gigantic walls on our left and right and shallow pools here and there reflecting the green color of the vegetation. I was feeling so puny, so insignificant among these mammoth structures, as if our existence or nonexistence has no consequences in this world.
We found some shallow waters in the way and tried to create bridge by placing stones, but waste, even the biggest stones that we could lift would go under the water. Finding no way, our last resort was to take out the sleepers. Some others preferred getting their shoes wet.
After a while, we found the rest of the group sitting past a knee-deep pool. The issues was the pool next to it, which was deep enough to drawn non-swimmers and wet our stuff. Some of us were thinking about ways to go past the pool and some others simply enjoying the moment of confusion. Peter along with others swam to other side and started collecting big logs to construct a raft. Unfortunately, there weren't much such logs there. Some came with plans to put backpacks on sleeping mat to float them and some others about making a human chain and passing backpacks. Then, Peter decide to trace back and climb the hill on our left. Everybody filled their bottles since this was the last time we were going to see water for the rest of the night.
The climb was steep, 70 degrees or so, with loose rocks and lack of grips. Sometimes, it becomes dangerous when a chain of 60 odd people are climbing up and few big rocks desire to go down. One such rock just missed a poor fellow's head by inches. When some 30-40 people go before you on already loose rocky surface, what you get is a difficult climb. Some people, including me, lost support for their feet and there they were on their chest screaming for someone to pull them up. Everyone knew that they would not die if they fall, just some scratches, a few broken bones may be. But the concept of getting hurt being dangerous is so much engraved in our psyche that our minds start yelling "stop, make it 100% sure that you are not going to fall." And once the confidence is lost, your knees start giving away, your grips get weaker, and thats it, pretty much.
Even though many were struggling to get up, lying on their chest, Peter was running like a mountain deer on these steep inclines and helping others to get up. Indeed, it was the most difficult part of the whole trek.
By the time we made it to the hill top, it was already dark. After a little walk, we found a relatively flat surface and decided to camp there. Some cleaned the space of stones for their beds, some went and got firewood for the group. Few were tired of the climb, so had food and slept. Others, kept on chatting around the campfire, playing UNO, making noise, trying to wake the sleeping guys up. This was the time we found the song of the trek, "O Maria" just because one of our fellow trekker happened to be Maria. Of course, Maria was not able to understand any bit of the song except "O Maria." I was a little skeptical about the campfire spreading especially given people were sleeping near it in nylon sleeping bags, but nothing happened and the fire lived up till next morning.
Sunday, magnificent rock formations and tiring stream path
I thought of getting up early next morning for sunrise, but nothing of that sort, it was pretty late when I got up and still not willing to get out of sleeping bag. The night was cold and dew drops on our sleeping bags made it wet. I peeped outside my sleeping bag and found few more bodies lying. Hence after being assured that there is still lot of time before people start kicking you, I decided to spend some more time lying idle. Soon, everybody was up and kicking, trying to dry their wet sleeping bags, packing their backpacks. Water was lacking and hence the decision was made to proceed towards the water source and have breakfast there.
We made our way through thick vegetation, small shrubs, creepers, and thorns. It was problematic to get through such terrain especially with big rolls of sleeping mat which would get stuck in thorns. Within an hour, we were in open riverbed again. This place seemed like it had been carved with precision by a master craftsman. Mostly smooth, flat rocks made the walk a breeze unlike yesterday's walk on gravels and round rocks. Smooth rocks, deep gorges, blue clear water, all are in the memory.
At one point, we lost visual contacts with people going ahead and some 10 of us were in confusion about the way. We shouted, but no one answered. I went uphill to check for signs of others passing by, but to no avail. Then Samyak figured out path taken by them and we joined them again in a moment. It was strange that they were not very far from us but were not able to hear us shouting. May be the acoustics of the surrounding was such.
It was time for a plunge in the pool and flowing waters and for breakfast. I was too lazy to take off my shoes. Rusk, jam, thepla all went in my stomach. We repacked our bags and moved on through this nicely carved place. One may wonder how great a sculpture "water" is the flow of which created these marvelous structures, hidden from human eyes.
Then we encountered a sort of cleft, right angles of incline for about 20 feet. Thankfully, there were places to keep our feet and one by one, all of us came down some jumping, some holding trees. Next few hours, we were walking without much difficult along the river with plenty of water to drink until we were stopped by another such steep rock. This was the point where the decision was made to depart from the river and walk through dry stream paths covered with thick vegetation. This was a tough time, walking next few hours through big boulders, getting on top of one, then getting down, then again up. This was tiring and because the stream path was with twists and turns, we were making little progress in terms of distance covered.
Peter felt the team was too slow and we were far behind our target of the day. He decided to leave the stream path and climb up the hills. Climb was not difficult and pretty soon we were on top of the hill where we were going to camp for the night. It was full of palm variety of tree with lot of flat spaces in between for us to sleep.
Everybody had ran out of water by this time. There was a source of water at a distance of 1 and half hours downhill, but not all were in such condition to go there. So, it was decided that few guys with good stamina would fetch water for all of us. Bottles were collected and 9 guys (Peter, Kartik, Diwakar, Bastien, Jean, Palani, Sankar, Bhaskar, Samyak) left with empty bottles in their backpack. It has to be appreciated that it is not easy to carry even 5 bottles of water and they were doing it 10 each through the dark of the night and steep climb. From their account, we came to know that they had encountered a steep climb of almost 90 degrees for 100 feet or so. Their effort and contribution to get water for all of us was just extraordinary. Kudos to those 9 dare devils.
In the meantime, Tamal, Pawan, Vicky, Joti, and Deepak had set up the kitchen and started making preparation for MTR palav which just required to be put in hot water for few minutes. Tamal sang the bengali song "sundar bone sundori gach" while the sun went down calmly without any display of color or drama, perhaps because the sky was clear with no clouds. We could see ranges after ranges of hills covered with thick forest.
The hot MTR palav packets were being distributed but at a condition, one needs to sing a song to get one. Indira managed with Karnatic classical and Maria with Portugal's national anthem. I wondered how many of us remember our national anthem completely. Some had already finished their palav the day before and hence we were short of food for the whole group. However, people coming late managed with sharing food and biscuits, etc.
People had already collected fire woods and now it was time for campfire, not one but three campfires. There is a magic number of people who can be in a group after which it starts to break up in subgroups. Certainly, 60 people were far above that magic number. Everybody wanted their personal affair, be surrounded with people they know, in their circle of familiarity. Strange it is, we like to venture in unfamiliar territories of jungles and mountains, face unexpected circumstances, but still keep ourselves aloof from unfamiliar minds and distant ourselves physically and psychological so as not to allow others to step in our personal spaces and to step in others personal spaces.
It was around 8 p.m. and news came on walky-talky that those 9 guys are returning soon and that we must increase the campfire for them to get an idea of our location. It was pitch black and we could see torches flashing at a distance. They had arrived and were welcomed by the rest of the group with loud noise. Everybody sat near the campfire and those guys finished their food. Suddenly, Peter and Vikram got a big tree for campfire, the whole big tree. All the previous fire wood collections seemed puny in comparison to this catch. Even though everybody were tired with whole day's trek and then night trek to fetch water, Diwakar still had enormous energy to jump over the campfire for the cameras, with flash, without flash, one more trial, out of focus, and he continued with his modeling satisfying all the photographers.
With almost everybody asleep, rounds of UNO started again. I was sitting with my back towards fire and it seemed the heat was penetrating my t-shirt and touching directly my skin, seemed my t-shirt was burning, but it was a pleasant pain like that of pain killer sprays. We left for our beds after the game and the night was not as wet and cold as yesterday's though I could not sleep well because the campfire had take my previously decided bed and now I was on an uneven surface. I kept on moving and adjusting myself according to the surface until finally I could find a comfortable position at 4 a.m!
Monday, dive in the pool and never ending jeep track
Water had already been consumed by next morning and it was time to get to the stream once again but in bright daylight. Peter took some people 50 feet down to have a look at the place we intended to reach. This time, 30 people turned out and those who stayed back, I must note, did make a big mistake. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about the steep 100 feet climb down because even after 3 years of trekking, I'm yet to overcome the fear of heights. But then, there was no point in staying back, standstill at one place, without water, being roasted by sun. Moreover, I did not want to miss out the fun in water and the numerous clicks that were waiting to be clicked.
While everybody was ready to leave for the stream, Samloo was still asleep in his brown sleeping bag. That was not fair though, but all attempts to wake him up went in vain. Initially, we tried gentle approach with leaves and twigs. With that failing, kicks came in and finally stones were thrown. Nothing worked. Though his physique does not match with that of Kumbhakaran, but his sleep habit do.
The same procedure of yesterday was repeated, backpacks filled up with empty bottles and we left. It was a nice walk through the palm trees, grass made slippery by passage of 30 odd pairs of feet. Soon we were passing through tunnels made by bushes over the stream path. And there it was, waiting for us, the steep climb down. It looked difficult as one could not see the gradual decline, just the ground 100 feet down through the narrow gorge and the stone wall in front of you. But it is always easier than it looks. May be our perception of danger and fear evolved in ways which make us avoid most dangers to our lives, injuries to our bodies. In prehistoric times when man was evolving, even a fractured bone would have been fatal with no treatment or help. May be that is what shaped our fear response.
It is difficult to imagine how these narrow gorges had been shaped over thousands and thousands of years by water and other natural process, slowly or may be in a hurry with earth quakes. These beautiful gorges and rocks led us to the river which in turn took us to our destination, the magnificent pool with greenish blue water, at the foot of vast expanse of vertical brown-black rock. The pool was deep, may be 30 feet, but clear and one could see through for 3-4 feet. Peter took the initiative to dive in this pool and then the photographers had many more models for this stunt. Non-swimmers too got encouraged and jumped with complete faith on swimmers to save them. As soon as they touched water, CTC lifeguards plunged into chilling water.
When it was enough of fun, one by one everybody came out of water, dried themselves under the sun and then explored the place around. It was time for a group photo and then to move on with filled up water bottles. All the bottles were filled up and as we were about to proceed, Tamal, the foodie, found that there were lot of fishes in a small ditch. They were small, barely 2 or 3 inches, and even tens of them would not be enough to satiate one person and we were 60. But Tamal's bangali instinct was unstoppable and he started working with a towel to lay the trap for the innocent fishes. They, the fishes, must have been surprised that human could come so far, so deep in the jungle to satisfy their taste for fish. Anand took the responsibility to collect the fishes in a bottle and make sure they remain alive till the fraying pan was heated. It was barely half a bottle full of fishes in total.
We left this beautiful pool and traced back our path, climbing up the rocks. Then came the hard part, climbing uphill with sun banging over us. It was hot and kind of humid. Good amount of water that we carried was consumed in the way. In an hour and half, by 1 p.m., we made it back to our camp site and others were waiting there, thirsty and bored, I presume. Water was scarce given that we had the whole day to trek and no idea about availability of water later. So,Anand took care of rationing water, 1 liter per head, not more, you have to come in queue. For the same reason, we dropped the idea of cooking Maggi and stuffed ourselves with whatever biscuits, rusks, etc., was left, still hungry, but no recourse. In the meanwhile, Tamal had already prepared the fish fry and few had chance of tasting it.
Yesterday night's campfire was still burning and it needed to shut off before we left this place. People started putting the garbage in it, plastic bottles, wrappers. I was somewhat hesitant about burning plastics since we have been taught how bad it is to environment, etc. But over the past few months, I have grown more and more skeptical about alarmist environmentalism. They, the greens, scare you that whatever you do is somehow harmful to environment; global cooling (in 1970s it was the buzz word), ozone hole, now global warming caused by the CO2 you breathe out. What all bullshit they want us to believe in without substantial proof. I took a broken bottle and threw it in fire. I felt something release within me, as if I was set free, that the debt of carrying all plastic back did not exist at all.
There were some abandoned objects at the camp site, caps, socks, sleepers. People were asked to take their belongings, but no one came forward. Certainly, these belonged to someone who were not willing to carry them back. What can one say of those who do not wish to take responsibility of things which were once useful to them. Once these possession seem little burdensome to keep, we disown them. Is it not our responsibility to give proper disposal after there is no use, no life left in our possessions? How will it be if our dead bodies are not given proper burial, disowned and left to decay by the society?
It was supposed to be another 7 hours of walk downhill until we could get to the highway. We walked through the open jungles with hot sun, then shaded stream path, came across another water fall. Fortunately, we had water throughout our way and lack of water, which we thought would be a problem, was not a problem at all. Sri Venkateshwara National Park was a beautiful place and I had in my mind feelings of leaving this place by tonight, the steep beautifully carved stones that we climbed down, hooping from one rock to another while walking along the shallow streams. Even in the afternoon, it seemed like dusk while walking through the stream path covered with vegetation, just like a tunnel.
Finally, we reached a crossing with a jeep track cutting the stream path at right angles. So, we had 3 different ways to go. Peter went to check the right path to proceed while the rest of us rested. All through the trek, I felt as if we were herds of cattle and Peter was the cowboy guiding us, navigating us. Soon, he was back with idea of direction and we were back on track to follow the stream path and not the jeep track. After walking for half an hour, it was realized that we were going in wrong direction. We traced back our path and then went on the jeep track. This path was full of evidence of elephants, with fresh elephant shit and broken bamboo shoots. Instructions were given out not to make noise, torches must be directed downward, no camera flash, and switch off the torches in case of any sound.
We entered the bamboo forest and walked silently with fear and excitement of encounter with an elephant, one behind other, queue of 60 odd pairs of feet. With every step, evidence of elephant being near and a group rather than single was mounting, fresh shits, broken bamboo throughout the narrow path with bamboo shoots on both sides. And it was already 7 in the evening and starting to get dark.This path was flat, yes flat, and one could not make any sense of elevation. This indeed made it easy to walk but increased the distance as flat paths ought to be circuitous, going over long distances with little decrease in altitude. Soon the sun left no evidence of its existence and it was pitch dark. We were still getting elephant shit every now and then, but now nobody bothered to look around since nothing was visible anyway. At times, I felt doubt whether we were going in the direction of highway or towards the elephant heard.
We were continuously walking since 2 p.m. and it was 8 now, without much food, just biscuits and glucose. By this time, I had started to feel the weight of backpack on my shoulders. The shoulder straps seemed to be cutting through my flesh and the weight pulling me back.
It was a like a train of 60 compartments, few going fast and few lagging behind. Whenever there was a gap between 2 person, someone will call for the guys ahead to stop so that the group stays together and no one loses visual contact. I did not want to slow the whole group and hence, was reluctant to stop for few moments to take rest, but was waiting every moment for someone to call for halt. I would look at my watch, it would be just 10 or 20 minutes after I last checked time. The flow of time seemed to be standstill. I would console myself, we'll hit the highway in another half an hour, but that half an hour would never pass, kept on getting stretched.
This phase of pain and misery was transitory and it was gone soon. I do not know for sure what happened within me, but feelings of pain, hunger, thirst were just no more there. I was walking fast now. My mind was void of thoughts. I could see the spotlight of my torch only. If someone stopped or slowed suddenly, I would bump onto him/her. It appeared as though the nervous system had stopped responding to the stimuli of pain and hunger. The soles of my feet were tired and burning some time back, but now it was just numbness that I could feel. The body seemed to be like a machine, walking endlessly without any feelings.
Nothing was visible in this darkness except the long tail of torches, one after another, bending at curves, moving fast, may be at 6 kilo meters per hour. I thought what assumptions will the villagers be making now about this long tail of lights, people from outside this planet, smugglers.
It was around 10:30 and someone shouted "halt, there is very big gap." We halted and sat down. Peter mumbled, "finally someone collapsed." I felt refuge in his calm voice, he still maintained a calm mind in such uncertainty. The tone of his voice made the word "collapsed" seem so insignificant. In similar circumstance, I would have panicked and ran to see what is the situation, but this time I was in peace. I laid down on ground and felt some thorns penetrating my t-shirt and hurting, but I was insensitive now, not in a mood to get up and settle a little further.
Things were fine, no body had collapsed. The group behind had heard the growl of some animal and hence decided stop for some time to let that animal go. They soon joined us and the group moved on. We could see some light at a distance, seemed as though we were approaching that light. But the notorious jeep track was not taking us anywhere. In a while, those lights disappeared along with our hope of nearing towards civilization. And then, there were noise of a engine or train perhaps. All of us felt the joy of certainty that we were nearing civilization. It was not possible to see emotions on the tired and hungry faces in such darkness. Some more walk and now we could see the elevated railway track and the train running on it. Everyone sat down for a moment to enjoy the signs of civilization, the joy of getting back among other fellow humans.
We trek to be in places where signs of human could not be seen. We trek, in part, because of our yearning to be in conditions we humans evolved in, in woods, around rivers. But then how strong is the eagerness of getting back to civilization is, the security of modern civilization, the concrete roads, the buildings, easy availability of food. It is difficult now for me to determine what is our natural abode, the woods where the major part of human history of tens of thousands of years was played or the cities and villages which we inhabited rather recently. Even the famous nature lover of his times, David Henry Thoreau could not spend more than two and half years in woods, near his much loved Walden pond.
Finally, we were back to civilization. We crossed the train track and reached the highway. It was around 12 in the night now.There was lot of transportation available for us to some nearby dhaba. Indira and Peter pitched in with their hitchhiker thumbs and there it was a truck filled with sand. Half of the group jumped over it and Pawan sat with the driver for communication in Telegu. It was chilling cold on top of the truck. We wanted to stop at the nearest dhaba but Pawan was instructed by Anand for some specific place. We passed by few dhabas and then patience of the hungry trekkers had started to melt, people started shouting. Vikram was patience thinking Pawan knows about the place, but soon his patience vanished when it was already half an hour of truck ride. He called Pawan, but he would not hear, sound would not go through the closed windows.
We stopped finally at an almost shut dhaba. Inquiry was made and the dhaba owner was eager to serve such a big crowd. The time between reaching the dhaba and when food was served was stretched. We were hungry and wanted food right then, but it was certainly going to take time for the limited staff of dhaba to prepare food for us. Within 15 minutes or so, the rest of the gang joined us in the dhaba.
It was a feast, dal fry, chana masala, egg bhurji, roti, rice. And that too steaming hot. Rarely we find food so tasty and so fulfilling. Tamal coordinated with the dhaba staff so that everyone would get food promptly. In the meanwhile, the drivers of cars and bikes were asked to finish their food and leave for another short trek in order to get the vehicles. Our vehicles were parked at a distance of about 15 km from this dhaba, 8 km on highway and then 7 km of walk! Those guys left and rest of us stretched our legs wherever we could, 3 bodies each packed on cots, some on the ground between the chairs, and some outside under open sky. In the meanwhile, some guys who joined from Hyderabad had already left in whatever transport they could manage.
Tuesday, the civil adventure
The drivers and riders should have been back in an hour or two, but they weren't. I came to know that there was some problem with forest office, but thought nothing major. We could do nothing but wait and sleep until any communication from them. Along with morning tea, we had a surprise in the local newspapers. Picture of our vehicles was published and that these vehicles had been confiscated by police who were not able to locate the owners and thought something malicious was going inside the forest. We were waiting in the dhaba over aaloo parathas and tea, eagerly looking for signs of our vehicles or any further information.
By 8 a.m., we saw the first car coming and felt relieved though little surprised that the red-tapped police and forest officials were letting us go so easily. It wasn't true, now we had to check in at police station for ...ummm... "paper work." The tired drivers/riders who had not slept overnight finished their breakfast and we left for the police station. The adventure was getting really adventurous now, I thought.
From the account of drivers, we came to know that after being dropped at the highway by some truck, they walked the 7 km without any break and reached the vehicles at around 3 a.m. And to their surprise, 15 odd police personnel were waiting there over campfire. They had been camping there for the last 3 days to look out for the owners of the vehicles. Their chief was informed that the vehicle owners had been found and arrested and he reached there soon. They were pretty redundant to move from their stand, strict about the laws of the land (unless you pay money). But somehow Pawan, the only Telegu guy there, and others weer able to convince the police about our legitimate intentions and we were asked to come to police station to complete the formalities.
In the Kodur police station, CTC core members along with regional language specialists, Anand and Pawan, explained them who we were and what we were doing there, etc. Media was already present there and busy interviewing some of us. Local townsmen were amazed to find such a big crowd of thieves. For most of us, this was the first police station visit and were enjoying this moment. Finally, the case was closed here, but another case of illegally entering the forest awaited us in the forest department.
We were escorted to the forest department office and what followed was hours and hours of negotiation with officials. We were in a soup since we had no written permission, just a verbal talk over phone with DFO and that too of a different route. The officials wanted to get hold of our camera and car keys, but we denied. While few of us were negotiating with the officials, others were engaged in calling influential peoples they knew to get us out of this mess, MLA, DFO, IPS officers, all were called and details given. It was difficult to make out who influenced whom and whether indeed there was any influence or not. Forest officials were also not in a position to let us go simply as this issue had already got media limelight.
The song "Panchi, nadiya, pawan ke jhoken, koi sarhad na inhe roke" floated in my mind. It was an offense to move freely even within the country, forget about across international borders. The rules of the civilization, those which we are partly responsible for, were haunting us. Isn't it the birth right of an organism born on this earth to move freely and thrive in whichever corner of earth it wants to?
While this was going on, the gang utilized forest department compound as fully as possible, we were sleeping, washings ourselves, eating water melons, soft drinks. Jean even took a near-complete bath there under the tap. Sleeping mats were unfolded and we lazed there.
The hard negotiations bore fruit and the officials agreed to fine of Rs 1000 per head and let us go. So, Tamal and Indira coordinate to collect money from everyone and some of us went to nearby bank to get the official chalan. The forest department was afraid of doing anything "under the table" fearing the media. Foreigners among us, Jean, Maria, and Bastien, were asked to fork out Rs 600 more than others. Jean murmured "can I sue forest office guys for racial abuse." Once it was done, we were free and soon zapping towards Tirupati for a nice lunch.
We had lunch at Hotel Blish (very bad service), eat to satisfy our hunger of 2 days, to rejoice the trek (or the return to civilization!). Worth mentioning is the fact that we utilized this restaurant well including the restroom, each one of us rested on the commode for some length of time. After sumptuous food, it was time for us to depart. What followed was a series of group photographs and solo in group photographs along with hopes and promises to see each other soon. Meanwhile, Anand and Deepak had figured out that it would be nice to celebrate someone's birthday just to relieve our leg pain with some b'day bumps. And who else can be the volunteer for this other than Samloo. Thankfully, not all 60 of us wished to celebrate his B'day in which case he would have needed immediate hospitalization.
People from Bangalore had relatively easy time ahead with just sitting idle in bus whereas guys from Chennai had another 5 long hours of driving and biking which was not going to be very comfortable given the drivers had not slept last night and the tiredness of trek. Nevertheless, this is what we always wish, to push our bodies and minds little more each time and test our limits.We departed from here with memories of this adventure never to fade away.