Night Trek to Skandagiri..!!

Morals are usually stuff that stories precipitate.. the chaff that they spit out after chewing on all the meat. Stories are used as baits to lure you to the bitterness of these so called 'universal truths'. This need not be the case always... for example, in the story that I am going to tell now, morals are the baits.. love it or leave it..!!

This is yet another story which starts with "Once upon a time in the land of plenty, there lived a dumbo..." and ends with something like "..and he somehow saved his ass and lived happily ever after (well.. almost)...." But as I already mentioned, there are quite a few morals attached to this one.. like....

- Monsoon treks without tents can be a bad idea
- Monsoon treks without tents, during night is even worse
- Monsoon treks without tents, on a moonless night, when nobody knows the route.... is stupid
- And its suicidal when you cant sing enough songs to last an hour of Antakshari.

I am still feeling too tired and sleepy to write a detailed account of our weekend night trek to Skandagiri aka Kalavarbetta. Crazy is probably too inadequate a word to describe the series of events that happened during the trek. As a result of some last minute planning and goof ups, the group of five (Siril, Anoop, Gopan, Santhosh & myself) started from platform #10 of KBS by 5:00 on that overcast Saturday evening. We reached Chikaballapur after an hour's journey, from where we had to travel another five kilometers to reach 'Omkar Jyothi Ashram' at the foothills of Skandagiri. There are two Omkarjyothi ashrams in Chikaballpur and this created some confusion initially. But by 7 o' clock we were all set to start the climb.. with the rain clouds hovering overhead quite menacingly.

The climb looked quite an easy one initially with a clear trail ahead of us. But soon this changed as the path started branching out in all possible directions. One good thing about Skandagiri is that it is impossible to get lost even if you take a detour for a while .. as long as you keep climbing uphill. Soon the torches were out and we could smell the initial drops of rain... we thought it might drizzle soon. Oh boy, we were so wrong..and in no time it started pouring cats and dogs. Rain Gods showed no mercy on us as they unleashed the beast... accompanied by its crooked aide - heavy wind. The jackets or wind-cheaters were of little use and we gave up the fight in the very first round. But the rain was in no mood to leave us alone... it kept on lashing at us asif its gone mad. We could hardly find our way and decided to take the dinner break after about two hours of climbing. We had to hold the food packets in hand, bend over it to prevent the rain from falling directly into it and then eat. But trust me.. the food tasted great...!!

We resumed the climb after dinner for another 30 minutes when we spotted a fort wall blocking our way up. Skandagiri has a fort on top of the mountain with walls built around it at different levels. You see one wall at a time and the moment you climb over that, another one will appear. This teasing continues till you cross six walls to finally reach 'The Top'. The winds were blowing at very high speeds by then and all of us were shivering like hell. We found a rock which could shield us from the winds but not the rain. So we sat there, drenched in the rain, huddled on one side of the rock, disparately trying to keep our body warm. I could hear Audioslave singing inside my head.. "I've been chased by a rain cloud .... I was lost and nearly drowned and kicked around.."...wished I could sing along.. the guitar riffs were echoing all round me and then I realised its nothing but the rain..!!

When you are lost and cant find the way in the dark, with the fort wall between you and the top (read as 'really nothing at all to do') and pounded by mad rain and strong winds (translates to 'no mosquitoes to kill') that pretty much leaves you with two options - play Anthakshari or discuss Communism. We chose to do both, one after the other. Soon we realised how easy it is to sing in the rain, especially classical music.. you don't have to put in much effort, the shivering will make sure you sing the ragas well. So the Kishore Kumars and Mohammed Rafis sang to glory for the next couple of hours. The mist played hide and seek with the city lights visible in the valleys.. giving the songs perfect visual effects. It is truly an experience to sit on top of the mountain in the dark and sing to the mist and the rain.. patient audience who did not really mind a wrong pitch or rhythm here and there. As time passed by we started to get stuck with the 'Laa' s and the 'dhaa's... we did not have enough fire power to stand two hours of anthakshari... an essential and necessary skill to master before attempting the next crazy trek. We moved on to our next option.. discuss Communism, Socialism and the new world order it can bring about. Trust me, under these circumstances, even this looked a meaty and sensible topic. The most significant benefit of the discussion was that the rain got bored with it and left us alone with the winds...!!

By 1 O'clock in the morning, we decided to explore our options to climb up.. we did not want to miss out the sunrise early in the morning. After unsuccessfully trying to climb the fort wall, we retraced the path we climbed up and took a deviation to the left of the wall. Soon we were climbing a flight of steps through the thick thorny shrubs and reached the clearing just above the wall. There were two small rooms on either side of this path made of stone slabs and they looked decent shelters for us to spend time till the morning. Anoop and Santhosh managed to catch some sleep and the rest of us started our round table on 'The Gandhi & Nehru families', Indo-China war, rise and fall of Russia and what not...!! Arguments and counter arguments heated up the air around us, providing a cozy environment to be and before we realised it was five in the morning - time to resume climb and witness the sunrise. But as soon as we stepped out of our palatial bunglows we realised that its toooo misty outside to see anything around, forget the sunrise.

The only visible thing was the fort wall ahead of us and we started towards it. Once we climbed around it what waited us was yet another a distance. Finally after three more of these stony structures, we reached the top. The surprising fact is that there is nothing much built on top that deserves the protection of six huge walls.. a dilapidated one room temple is all what it holds..!! We were all surrounded by mist which occasionally danced around to give us a glimpse of the glorious views on all sides. In spite of missing the sunrise it was worth the climb. We hanged around the top for a while before deciding to start our return journey. On the way down we had a look at the route we took the previous night and were more than surprised. We had taken some dangerous routes which were definite No-Nos if it was during the day.. the darkness had infact helped us to climb up without realising the depths beneath. Instead of climbing around some steep and slippery rocks, we had in fact scaled them right across.. fortunately without any causalities...!!!

Soon the mist disappeared and we were treated to some more enchanting views of the surrouning mountains, valleys and some spectacular rock formations. It was such a relief to feel the sunshine.. the heat.. the light and the dryness. Soon hunger started its attack and we quickened the pace. Fortunately there was one person selling 'pulihora' right near the strating point of the trek and all of us had our stomach full. Then there was this long road leading to Chikaballapur town and in no time we were on it. We got a bus halfway through and what happened after that is just a blur in my memory.. All I remember is getting on a bus to bangalore and darkness forcing itself into my eyes... when I opened them again we were back in Bangalore. I know one thing .. this trip will remain in my memory for ever.. not just for the craziness of it... but also for the place that Skandagiri is...!!

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