Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year bash with trek to Kaurava Kunda - 31 Dec 2013 to 1 Jan 2014

When Santosh posted in BTC for a night trek to Kaurava Kunda to celebrate New Year, I signed up immediately, just like other enthusiasts forcing registration closure in just about 2 hours - sort of record as Santosh later told us. I have never celebrated New Year before (childhood doesn't count :P), but if I had to choose a way, it couldn't have been better than this. Having free time, I got myself hiking fleece (to keep out cold) and torch (dynamo as well as USB charging) from Decathlon on 31st morning.

Reaching KSRTC Terminal 3 platform 10 took about 20 minutes from BMTC bus stand, thanks to all the metro constructions. And so, I was only ten minutes early than my usual half an hour. Santosh was getting rice bath parceled and Deepika was already there. As others tricked in, we introduced ourselves everytime and got chatting - special attention to those with cameras to take many pics, Sonali gave us chocolate, joked about taking care of Madhuri's home made Gulab Jamoons and recent treks. Being new year's eve, traffic was worse than normal weekdays and we finally started to Chikkaballapur half an hour late at 8:30PM after having to drop a guy stuck at Domlur. Our 15 member group led by Santosh - Deepika, Shailesh, Girish, Sonali, Ankit, Sribacha, Rohit, Aravind, Ashutosh, Vijay, Madhuri, Anthony, Ram and myself. Some were first time trekkers and some first time with BTC, by end of event all adding to BTC family :)

We seated ourselves at back of bus to lessen disturbing co-passengers, but am sure even driver would have heard our raucous. Time pass was discussing on non-veg food (special contribution from Vijay and Sribacha with their experience in China, these two feature heavily in most stories throughout trek) which led to flight topics (Vijay and Shailesh booked tickets with AM/PM interchange, Vijay had horrifying experience of odd sound being fixed with spanner and some tapping, Vijay's four word long name being called unrecognizably on some foreign trip, etc), Sribacha on his escape from taxi driver when not having extra money pay for 6 hour shopping instead of 2, Shailesh with info on constellations and zodiac signs when it was commented about seeing lot of stars from hill top compared to pollution city sky, talk on languages we knew and how people refer to state's capital (Kolkata, Bhuvaneshwar, Chennai) when a state is mentioned as native, interesting habits of people in West Bengal and Orissa, bollywood and regional music and so on.

Heavy traffic meant we crossed airport only by 10PM - which was to be our plan of arriving at Chikkaballapur. We reached eventually at around 10:45PM and hired an autorickshaw to cover 5KM to base of hill instead of original itinerary to walk. The ride turned adventurous with all 15 fitting in one share auto, holding dearly onto our seats and singing (read screaming) songs like 'Suhana Safar', 'Zindagi ek safar hai suhana', 'Koi kahe kehta rahe', 'Ek pal ka jeena', 'Yahoooooo' etc.

 Starting from Hariharpur

As we got down in Hariharpur village at 11:15PM, dogs started barking and the cry taken up by all the dogs in village as we reached the base of hill. Three of them climbed with us, coming in between our legs and sometimes getting accidentally stepped upon. Intro session was pushed to be done on top of hill, it would have been weird in torch light (no moon too) and so close to the village anyway. Within 15 minutes of easy climb, we reached the Shiva temple. Dogs were still howling in the village, not sure if it was directed on us though. Lights from villages all around was beautiful - like lamps lighted for diwali. First timers asked if trek was done and were disappointed when Santosh informed that only 20% was done (which actually turned out be more like 10-15%). After few snaps and small rest, we decided to carry on instead of waiting here for New Year.

 Near Shiva temple, dog company and lights from village in background

The path was strewn with bushes (some with thorns), occasional trees and boulders. Santosh often went ahead to check if the path was right - I wonder how he managed, worn paths would often disappear amongst bushes and rocky surface. Sometimes, we would call him Santoooooooooosh in a tone mimicking Bommarillu remake Santosh Subramaniam or Santosh Sir. We monitored time frequently to not miss midnight. How did it matter I remarked, as somewhere in the world it was already 2014. As the climb became steeper, we stopped often - cue for me, Ashutosh, Santosh and others to take pics (most of my pics were blurred and I know only AUTO mode :( ). Some places, path was too narrow and slippery to allow passage for only one.

We stopped at 12AM for everyone to gather, shake hands and shout 'Happy New Year' in various languages. Villagers had fire crackers going (some were before 12, some after - really time didn't matter). Some called home/friends to wish (not all got tower signals though) and Sribacha played loud music on his radio speaker (from Bose, possibly had Analog Devices chip too :P). It was some party song, the likes I don't listen to, but in line to fill our adrenalin rush.

  Relaxing at top

Path became more tricky, slippery grass and small stones on mud, steeper and narrow as we neared top. We collected small wooden sticks and branches lying around for camp fire. Finally, at 12:20AM, we reached shorter of the two peaks. There was a nice relatively flat rocky surface to put all our bags and rest. And whats more, there was stone arrangement just near for fire camp. Thanks to whoever had done it in past. Out came snacks to eat after customary pics while Santosh and others went down to collect more wood for fire. Vijay had to contend our collective decision to cut cake only after fire gets going. The meagre wood was arranged in the pit but not lit yet.

Plenty of stars lit up the sky, more effective in less polluted village surrounding and moonless night. Wind was strong and chilly. Sribacha had come directly from his office (close to TN border) and so had his laptop too. We joked 'work from hill' instead of 'work from home' and took a snap for proof. While we waited for Santosh to return, weather turned hostile in matter of minutes. Fog hid the stars completely and the temperature dropped to 15C. Wind worsened the chilly effect. A thin layer to water coated everything and clung to us. Shadows formed in air when we were shining torches to faces for taking pics. My camera gave weird hazy ones :( :(

 BTC cake (picture credit: Ashutosh)

Getting fire started proved difficult - what with wind and mist, despite experienced hands of Vijay, Madhuri and others. Camphor, grass and paper finally caught fire from lighter after few false starts. Cake was finally cut to welcome new year. It was awesomeously  (I know it is not a word :P) delicious chocolate topped with strawberry and surrounded on sides with choco chips. Madhuriji cut it nicely for us, initially there was rush and someone cunningly told us to be patient and nicely took a piece for himself as everyone stopped trying.
I got my two patato chips packets out (as asked to bring by Santosh sirji). His rice bath was fed to dogs as he deemed it to be bit spoiled. However, Sri's rice-sambhar and hyderabadi biryani (forgot who got it) tasted too good. Ofcourse, Madhuriji's gulab jamoon were a treat and sweet corn was good despite getting cold. Till 3AM, all of us were by the fire, dancing to party and item numbers dished out from Bose speaker (songs selected in mobile and connected via bluetooth, the speaker itself was covered with a black cloth for mist). Vijay patiently took care of breaking branches and feeding the fire. In between, Santosh, me and two others went to get more wood.

It was a relief to descend as it wasn't windy. Another group of trekkers were climbing up. Mist and slippery grass meant our progress was slow and frequently off path. When we somehow reached the spot, Santosh sheepishly revealed the wood pile made by villagers (or was he joking? and actually made the pile when he did recce the previous Saturday?). The not-so-thick and long branches were slippery and 6-7 of them were very difficult to carry on shoulder as one hand was engaged with torch to  light the path. We almost stumbled a few times and ofcourse lost path a couple of times. The climbing group were still struggling too, they eventually reached atop long after we returned.

Then came the biggest and sweetest surprise of the event - garma garam masala chai (hot tea) made over camp fire! Santosh had got milk, vessel, tea powder, cardamom, ginger, paper cups! With everything mixed, Vijay and yours truly helped Madhuri in keeping the pot over fire and final touch provided by Ankit for 'ufaan'. Oh, what a taste! And a what a relief in biting cold. It was 3AM by then and majority crawled inside sleeping bags.
   They missed a lot :D

They missed out colorful stories/antics (mostly childhood) of Vijay, Sribacha, Santosh and few anecdotes added by Madhuri, Shailesh, Ankit and me. For more than two hours, we moved topic to topic until finally Bose speaker's battery went dead. One of the best laughter therapy session it was. Close to dawn, Ram and few others joined our camp too (some were listening while sleeping :D)

  Stories by camp fire
Few snippets - Vijay: Got late in some forest trek and having fun in pond/lake - while returning smoke/fire erupted (due to ammonia gas) and ran for life (got separated from rest of group) and sheltered in some old guys home. Got caught skipping school when a girl from his class spilled the beans to his father - as a revenge he plotted with a friend of his to electrocute! her, got caught while waiting on water tank by her mother noticing their slippers! If I remember correctly, he once used to go for tuition held in third floor of the master's house with only another friend making up class. Early morning once, power wasn't there and were greeted by a form in whites - ran away far only to know a new girl had joined tuition. And some work related incidents.
Sribacha - by far the most colorful childhood, can make a movie :D He is native of some village in Orissa, close to river which meets the sea and surrounded by forest and mountains. He is a born trekker - he had to trek even for morning ablutions. Returning to home in evening, once they ran their cycle into a bear! They had jackfruit tree where bears frequently climbed and stole during night. Once, their father waited until bear climbed and dropped fruits. They quickly opened the door and hauled as many before the bear came down and started banging the door! Many more incidents like close escape from snake, bitten in thigh by scorpion, caught skipping school and having food at stranger's marriage, learning to ride scooter (some master's and took it for rides all over village without informing :P), caught stealing money and fish by his father having powerful memory and finally getting rid of father's thrashing as he was mistaken to be run away from home but actually hid in mountains. No wonder, he has good presence of mind now - like the escape from taxi driver in airport.
Ankit - drunk and caught by prof/principal in college which led to someone else telling of a college goer who used to drink in graveyard to escape notice from family.
Santosh - too much sleep in himalayan trek to not notice fellow trekkers banging his door (their return had turned worse due to weather and shortage of food). Losing consciousness for about 5 minutes from electric shock. 
Shailesh - close shave from leopard on a trek as his friends were hidden from the beast and vice versa, while he and others were watching from hill above.

   Time to descend

Afterwards, we tried without success to finally play Antakshri. Personal anecdotes kept coming in between and there wasn't much interest apart from Madhuri and myself. By 6AM, we woke up others. Sonali was last to get up and she was the one advocating to not let anyone sleep in bus stand. After another round of hot and delicious tea and photo shoots (including rare group pic), we started trek for the other peak at around 7AM. Fog spoiled any chance of sunlight - forget sunrise.

   Atop the taller peak

The ascent and descent of the second peak took us about an hour. The large monolith rocky peak was steep and bit slippery from mist. It was good to scale steep slopes for such long stretches, some running too for capturing pics of fellow trekkers. Along the way, somehow, Sribacha got adopted by the couple (Vijay-Madhuri) and lot of joking were centered on Sri.

  That's what we climbed

Sun finally gave us a peek at around 8:10AM. Another half an hour to reach base, having Khakara (appalam like, made of wheat) and other snacks and more stepping on dog's leg (I was the culprit, gave Khakara to console). We then visited the village pond, spent some time relaxing. On way back, had the customary feedback session. And again, most of them positive and special thanks to Deepika for suggesting night trek to celebrate New Year :) Just as we finished and started the 5KM walk to bus stand, two share auto materialized as if they knew our timing! Comfortable ride this time, we were thankful to not have walked so far. We had breakfast at bus stand (when some ordered puri, I wanted to say it is better to have idli to avoid oil, but dunno why I refrained. Resulted in stomach upsets and food poisoning :( ) Most of us slept soundly on the return journey to Bangalore.


  All 15 had stuffed inside the previous night ;)

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