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...!!

Going Goa Gone...

To be edited

Mad Thoughts.....

Been talking to a dear friend of mine the other day on God and religion... my pet topic to bitch about. She was angry at God for consistently neglecting her requests and prayers. She has declared moratorium on God and religious rituals for some time now. Her complaint is that even when she is asking for very small and minutes things in life, God seems to pay little attention to them. Thats definitely frustrating, when your concept of God is about an all powerful being who takes care of you and can alter things in life once you ask. After all prayers are not just a time killing activity..rite..? They are based on the understanding that HE will carefully listen to them and take positive action as long as they are benevolent in nature. Makes sense...!!

I was wondering what could be the logic behind these prayer-answer sessions. This is the explanation that I came up with, which wasn't enough to answer her questions but good enough to explain to myself the phenomenon of 'delayed-delivery of blessings' by Him. When there are so many stupid excuses for everything in life these days, I don't think one more really hurt. The crazy theory goes something like this - Whenever you ask for things that are not existing in the 'present', you are unknowingly requesting a deliberate collapse or expansion of 'time'. Time being something that is common to everyone and everything, you can just imagine the repercussions of such a time-altering activity on the world at large. Its like the Chaos theory situation of 'a butterfly fluttering its wings at one corner of the world, creating a cyclone at another corner'. The whole world and its beings are connected by such delicate linkages that the action at one point will inevitably result in a reaction at some other. Probably God himself is very much aware of these things and make sure that his actions do not cause unnecessary imbalances..!!

Realizing that I am at my maddest-best, she decided not to contest the theory and we moved on to different topics. Religion has become such a nasty cancer on society these days that you cannot talk for 5 minutes on any subject without mentioning the 'R' word at least once. So it came up again. This time it was some Hindu religious rituals that became victims of our discussion. Hinduism, which was a 'way of living' till recent times, has got some beautiful and meaningful rituals. That is why you find most of the Hindu religious ceremonies so natural and nature-oriented like many of the 'so called pagan' religions. They were all intended to develop a healthy relationship with the surroundings we live in and the things we live with. This way of living was based on the realization that we share the world with others, that even the meek has a unique role to play here, that you need to respect everything - living & non-living - and so on. The basic intention of life was peaceful coexistence. Accepting and respecting things around will automatically take care of the "God' factor... Who was perceived as nothing but the collective conscience of all that we see around.

Only when Hinduism had to transform itself into a religion - perhaps to resist annihilation by more aggressive faiths - that these rituals lost their meaning and people started understanding them literally. This is in stark contrast to the artificial, person-oriented ceremonies in modern religious faiths. They care a damn for the world we live in, the only focus being keeping the all powerful HIM happy and contented.. ya he is watching you..!!! Makes me think of God as somebody like the character Robert De Niro plays in 'Meet the Parents'. A retired agent from the CIA
[CLIA - Central Lack of Intelligence Agency, according to Dustin Hoffman], he thinks that everybody else is a crook and keeps watch on everyone.

Don't they know the whole concept sounds silly...?

Of Mountains & Myths...!!!

While searching the internet for details of Thadiyandamol and the trek routes there, I remember reading a blog which said many people could not climb the mountain in their first attempt. It was not because it was a difficult place to reach or climb, but something always happen which force people to cut short the trip the first time. I was amused at this notion and never thought this could happen to me. I was never a believer of these so called 'myths'. So when the whole city was busy celebrating Diwali, two of us quietly sneaked out of the noise and mayhem and took the KSRTC bus to Virajpet.

The trip was peaceful and we reached Virajpet bus stop in the wee hours of that Saturday morning.The plan was to climb Thadiyandamol, camp there that night, climb down Sunday morning and reach Bangalore by Monday morning. The bus station was all deserted and we had the rest rooms at our disposal for morning chores. After a quick breakfast, we boarded the first bus towards Napoklu, the starting point of our trek. This is one of the treks where the trail is pretty clear and straight. We took a deviation from the bus route towards 'Nalknad Aramanai'. There is tarred road for quite a distance which gradually gives way to a mud road which goes winding up through the tea estates. There are couple of streams criss crossing the road on the way and they are good sources of drinking water. We could not help empty the mineral water bottles and collect some 'genuine' mineral water.

Nalknad Aramana is a deserted palace now, but was once the last refuge of king Veerarajendra before surrendering to the British. It is too small to be called a 'palace' and looks more like a big ancestral home. But it has some 20 odd rooms and some elaborate artwork on the ceiling and walls. There is also an escape root via an underground tunnel from one of the rooms.
The palace is now closed for renovation. It was sad to see the mural paintings on the walls covered in paint. The caretaker of the palace said that the walls were whitewashed by some authorities and all the murals were thus destroyed. A Bangalore based company was doing chemical treatment to wash away the paint and to their amazement found that parts of the pictures were even covered by cement. Conservation at its best...!!

We resumed our journey after this short stop at the palace and took the road that goes towards the Palace Estate. From this point its a steep climb towards Thadiyandamol. There is a junction on the way where you get a fabulous view of the mountains and the valley below.. the first glimpse of Thadiyandamol too which looked inviting in a carpet of lush green. The steep climb was over and it was level ground for a while from there. There were kurinji plants all over the place with stray flowering here and there. These guys generally flower en-masse only once in twelve years, though there are certain small variants of kurinji which flower every 3/4 years. Ahah.. I forgot to mention about our trek guide Luke. Luke was a black canine with a contrasting white streak along his belly.

He showed us the way, not to mention the fight he picked up with some buffaloes on the way. In spite of his brave stance, the buffaloes managed to drive him away in few minutes. He would walk ahead, stand tall on a rock and wait for us to catch up. Whenever we stop to catch a breath, he would sit upon a rock with that expression in his eyes 'Come on guys, grow up..!!'. He also obliged us by posing for photographs like a trained model every now and then. It was a sunny afternoon and there were quite a few stunning views on the way towards the peak... but we were still half way through.

It was then that my friend developed yelled with pain and sat on a rock. The expression on his face told me that something is not quite right. He had missed his step while climbing a rock and badly twisted his ankle. My worst fears proved right when he said he cannot walk any more and I knew the adventure is over. We had no options but to return rather than risk further injury to his leg by climbing ahead. We slowly started walking back, taking rest every now and then to nurse his injured leg. Somehow he managed to hold to together till we reach Virajpet by evening and catch a bus to Bangalore late night.

When I first read about people not being able to climb Thadiyandamol at first attempt, I dismissed it as another of those stories.. but when it unfolds right in front of you, you gotta believe there is something in it. We had seen other people climbing the hill and a few returning after a day's halt on top, but somehow the mountain did not want us on top.. at least then.

Myths are perhaps not always figments of imagination...!!

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Marriage Blooos...!!

There is a time in life when you come face to face with the marriage machinery. I do agree that everyone should get married at least once in life.. after all happiness is not the only thing in life. But somehow marriage always looks like this situation into which the non-initiated are eager to jump in and the veterans are desperate to get out of. All said and done, its an inevitable trap that very few dare to escape. Yaaa... when rape is inevitable its wiser to lie down and enjoy..!! Its surprising that I am talking ill about something thats the very reason behind my existence.. or is it really so?

There are few interesting ways/circumstances under which the thought of marriage manifest upon you... was trying to figure out few interesting ones from what I have heard and seen and experienced.

Situation One - A feeling develops deep inside you one morning, a longing for company in life, a desire to raise a family and have kids, an innate animal instinct to procreate and sustain the species...blah blah. According to me this happens only in theory... at least the first part. In reality, this is just an excuse to share the load of housekeeping, telephone bills and a necessary and sufficient condition to rent an apartment in a decent locality.

Situation Two - you look around and see that people of your age has got family and kid(s), look behind and see your parents standing with that wicked smile and fear in their eyes, look in the mirror and see those beautiful gray hairs forming a congregation on your head and finally decide that its time to get marred (oopss.. missed an 'i' there). The more their ward postpones the decision to get married the more worried parents get.. there should definitely be something wrong with their son/daughter.Now a days, they have to put up with the additional fear of their kid changing into a "monster" who prefers people of the same gender to live with..!!

Situation Three: Your successful pursuits have earned you a girl/boyfriend who is breathing down your neck to get married as soon as possible. I am sure you never had the good fortune to listen to the elders who said "Careful what you wish for.. you might actually end up getting it and regretting it for the rest of your life"...!! All that they say are not necessarily crap.. when they say not to do something they actually would have done those mistakes so many times in their life and learned from it.. so better open up your eyes and listen..[errr... did I say 'eyes'..?]

Do I sound like a jerk..? Be my guest..!!

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