Balapalli Trek

There are bad times in life, but then there are really bad times as well. Members of our regular trekking group were getting rusted and round, after some unfortunate events in life rendered few of them immobile (read marriage & associated conundrums). We have been planning for some adventure for a while now, but 'every body continued their state of rest as there was no scope for external forces to act upon them, owing to immense gravitational pull towards the center of their new found universes'. Finally we somehow reached an agreement on a 'trip' to Badami & Aihole, an adventure fit for primary school students at the best. But as the story goes, 'unforeseen' and 'unavoidable' circumstances made all of them pull out at the last minute and I found myself staring foolishly at another boring weekend. It took a while for my clay filled cranium to accept once again, how futile it is to fight the natural life forces. But then causation is the essence of life, everything happens for a reason, and I decided to go with this group from Chennai, who were on a trek to Balapalli in the Venkateswara range, near Tirupathi.

Few people from our upcoming Himalayan trek were part of this group and that was another incentive to tag along. There was no one else from Bangalore and I agreed to join the team at Renigunta. I had not booked any tickets but managed to get on the 10 o' clock bus to Tirupathi from Majestic bus station. The 6 hours journey was horrible, as the back-seat-effect in association with excellent roads denied me any sleep all night. I reached Tirupathi by 4 in the morning and the small town was already crowded with pilgrims who were on their way to the Venkateswara temple. Renigunta is about 10kms from Tirupathi, and as I was supposed to meet the gang only at 7:30, I checked into a motel, had a shower, and tried to sleep for a while. It was too hot even at that time in the morning, and I started sweating the moment I stepped out of the shower. After an unsuccessful attempt at sleep, I finally checked out by 6:30 and took a bus to Renigunta. I called up the Chennai gang who were delayed by an hour and they asked if I could travel a little further and meet them at a nearby cafe, to avoid a detour to pick me up. With no other option to kill time, I decided to walk up to this place from Renigunta instead of taking a rickshaw. The two kilometers walk was a good warm up for the long trek ahead.

I think the fun of life is in meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. The people I spent the next two days with, were nothing short of 'awesome' - Tamal, Nagi, Nitheen, Khadir, Nannan, Nivedita, Thiru, Chandu, Deepak, Madhu, Abhishek, Vinodha, Pavan, Murali and Akshay were all exceptional in their own ways. More on the people as we unfold the story. After a quick breakfast, we traveled to Balapalli check post where we had to take necessary permissions to venture inside the forest range with our guide Mani. We all picked up our respective food packets and started the trek by 9:30. The sun was already out, mercilessly showing off his might and we had no tree cover but the caps on our heads, to shield us for the first few hours. By lunch time we reached our first water source - a few pools of stagnant water, which is actually part of a stream. We opened up the food packets, ate some "coconut polis", apples and pears. The water bottles were all empty by then and we refilled all of them with the sweet water from the stream.

After an early lunch, our next destination was the watch tower, with a few more pools next to it. The thought of the water-pools were the best possible motivation for all of us. It almost became a ritual for everyone to jump into them as soon as we reach one, at times with the shoes and bags still on. The heat and steep climbs had taken its toll by then and few of us were down with multiple cramps. Nivedita's alternative medicine therapy and Tang worked on most of them, but one or two really struggled to reach the watch tower. We had already lost some time owing to the frequent stops and were worried that we might be forced to camp at some place before the intended camping spot. The trail after the watch tower is more or less through flat terrain, and we managed to make up the lost time. So by 6:30 in the evening, after some 7 hours of walk, we climbed down to this gorgeous river bed. It was a full moon night and the granite rocks on either sides of the river were reflecting the moonlight, giving a surreal aura to the whole place. The river looked like a string of pearls with numerous water-pools connected by narrow streams of flowing water! The river bank was the perfect camping spot - spacious, clean and open with stone walls on either side like an old castle.

The whole place was safe too, till someone mentioned elephants and elephant dung. It was while searching for firewood that we came across relatively fresh dung. Our guide Mani had earlier warned us that elephants frequent this area as the water sources inside the forest have all dried up in the summer. Elephants or no elephants, none of us were in the mood to flee this beautiful piece of land we conquered, we intended to keep it at least for the night. Frankly, most of us were in no position to walk another inch, and the rhythmic snoring from a few 'dead' bodies confirmed this. Soon we got a fire running by the river side. A few of us huddled around it and started preparing dinner, over an animated discussion on Carnatic music and Indian Cinema. Deepak and Nivedita were trained classical flautists and Nitheen & Nannan enlightened us with their hilarious dissection of Indian movies. Nannan had already shared with me few of the Tamil movie stories as we were climbing up the steeps.. that was his way of forgetting how far ahead the next pool is. Soon under the supervision of head chef Tamal, the soup, rice, chicken & Soybeans were all ready.

If you ever want to eat really tasty food and enjoy the experience, don't bother looking for those swanky restaurants in the city. All you need to do is walk till your legs and body aches, then wait and watch as the food gets cooked, and finally have it like an asteroid is going to annihilate our planet in the next 30 minutes! Dinner time was the most peaceful 20 minutes of the entire trek, nobody uttered a word. The sleeping bags and mats were out in no time, and all I remember doing after dinner is staring at the full moon and pulling down the skull cap over my eyes. Everyone woke up pretty early the next morning. The pools were looking so inviting and our plan was to spend a few hours in the water before starting back. Most of us could not wait till the breakfast is ready, and we were in the water as early as 6:30 in the morning. The sleeping mats were rolled and tied together as floaters for the non swimmers. One of the pool was deep enough for people to dive from the rocks, while there were two other pools with shallow waters. We took turns at diving, trying out various flips and styles. Akshay and myself tried catching some fish for lunch but ended with just 5 of them; which we released back into the water.

After a breakfast of pongal and more coconut polis, by 11 o' clock we started our return journey. This time Tamal, Khadir, Nivedita, Akshay, Murali and myself decided to take a different route along the stream, while rest of the group decided to retrace the path we came up. There were numerous pools on the way for us to cool off and that was a great advantage of the path we took. All of us fell down a couple of times stepping on the slippery rocks, but it was all part of the fun! Soon we joined the main group near the watch tower and had our lunch. More apples, pears, polis and chocolates were shared and washed down with generous quantities of Tang and Glucose water. This time Mani took us through a different route and by 7 in the evening we were back at the check-post. I said goodbye to the group and reached Tirupathi by 8:30, got a ticket in the 9:30 bus and reached Bangalore by early morning Monday.

At times it is good to steal a few moments from life and run away with them... away where 'nothing is real and nothing to get hung about'.

1 comment:

james jerry said...

Saare! njaan idu ellam miss cheiyu aanu. Life in the wild is so much fun. Good that you are enjoying it.

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