25. Mission DFS/5, 9 day survival mission, Dec 24-Jan 1
This trek is special in many ways. My 25th trek and my first trek where I will be spending 9 days in a forest, completely away from civilization. Till now, I haven’t gone beyond a 3 day trek. Hope you enjoy it.
Literally speaking, our trek started from Chennai central railway station itself. The crowd was so overflowing at the Central railway station that we had a tough time reaching our particular platform. We had the general compartment tickets with us.But seeing the packed general compartment we decided to get in the sleeper class bogie. When the TTR came we paid him 50 rupees per person to allow us to stay there. At 2 am we reached the destination. We waited there for our co trekker, Nithin who was supposed to join us from Bangalore.
After having a cup of tea we started the food distribution.The food for the next 9 days was equally divided and given to each participant. It was really heavy. With an added 5Kg of food my backpack felt really heavy. But its no time to whine. I am here on an important and deadly mission – DFS(Dead For Sure). I knew its going to be the toughest trek I have ever done.
As soon as Nithin came we took a Jeep from the railway station to the entry point for the trek. The Jeep driver was asking so many questions since he wanted to know why we are getting down in the middle of highway. With some stupid answers we tried to silent him.
At 4.30 in the morning we officially started our trek. I switched on my GPS and reset the Odometer count and current tracks. The Jeep track was a little bushy because it wasnt recently used, but even a trail of that kind is the maximum you can expect in a CTC trek. So I was happy.
The highway was really far away from the streams in the hill, which we wanted to explore on day 1. It was a long walk. Sometimes we got some village trails, other times we followed the small boulders in the dry stream. After around 3 hours of walking we reached a 50m high water fall. It was a dead end. There was no way to proceed further in the stream as both sides of the stream had vertical rocks. With a slight satisfaction of finding the first milestone in the trek, I marked the location in my GPS. It was only 8 am, but we were really tired after the long walk. Everyone took a nap. Arun, Sridhar and few others started cooking the breakfast – corn flakes with milk powder.
After the breakfast it was time for us to proceed further – to find a way to the top of the falls. It wasnt an easy task. After going back downstream for few minutes me and Sridhar climbed on the right side of stream hoping to find a way up. But after few meters, it turned out be a dead end. Peter asked us to come down and he lead us up, in another less sloppier way. The climb was difficult. We often met rocks with 80 to 90 degree slope which was very challenging. In many places we had to pass the bags first, because it was impossible to balance with the heavy backpacks. I really enjoyed the climb. This was the first time I have ever encountered such kind of rock climbing in CTC treks. I could feel my heart beating fast with excitement. But there was one little problem. None of us had any water with us. When we left the stream we didnt fill up our bottles. After few minutes of climbing we were fully exposed to the sun and surviving till the next water point became the main concern. On the way we found some Amla tree which gave us a boost.
After a long hike, we finally reached the plane areas on top of the hills. To our luck, we often found trails in the direction we had to go. I was reaching my limit without the water. Others were also tired so we decided to take a power nap in a shady place. I felt more energetic after the nap. After the nap we followed the same trail we were following before until Peter decided to go off trail to reach our camp site for day 1 -a 50 m falls. At around 7.30 pm we reached the camp site. It was relatively flat. I changed to my dry clothes and removed my shoes. Everyone collected dry woods for cooking and camp fire. Arun prepared Maggi noodles for dinner. As usual it tasted superb.
After the dinner we had chit chat discussion around the camp fire. Everyone introduced themselves and talked about how they came to know about CTC, about their first trek, their best treks etc. I realized that I cant have such a quality time in any city. Chill night, near to a camp fire, talks with fellow trekkers. Superb!!!
Next day, Arun prepared Aval with Sugar and water for breakfast. Peter briefed the day’s plan with a printout of the Google terrain map. The day looked relatively easy with not much climbing. After breakfast, we started following the stream down. Within half an hour we reached on top of a water fall. There seemed no way down until Peter said that we can climb down through a small side stream on the right. It was an easy way down. We went down, changed the clothes, getting ready to take a dip in the water fall.It was 50m high and the water was really chill. I couldnt stand under it for more than 15 mins as my whole body started shivering. This falls looked special because it looked like it was falling from the sky rather than from a rock. After taking a group snap there, we quickly resumed trekking. Because of the chill weather, it was no place to simply stand around. Walking was the only way to warm ourselves other than a camp fire.
On the next few hours we followed the stream over the boulders. The stream had many gorges and its terrain kept changing. Sometimes the right side looked steep and left side gradual slope and in few minutes vice versa.
The walk in the boulders took a good amount of time to finish. Later the stream terrain changed to flat rocks which were easy to walk and more beautiful. The one thing I noticed about this place is that the rock structure is amazingly beautiful. Gorges,falls,pools – there was no limit to them in those 9 days.
Sometime around 12 pm we reached a pool where people started jumping in. Peter decided to take a power nap in the mean time. I am not a fast sleeper so I also jumped into water and got a back massage from the small water falls. In an hour we started again and Peter said that we will stop by an amazing pool in an hour. We would be taking a lunch break there.
By 1 pm we reached the main pool of the day. This pool was not known for its size but it was a perfect place for diving. From the top we have a good 8m diving arena. Its really deep and everyone jumped to the pool from there. I was scared, as I am a non swimmer plus scared of heights, but looking at others diving I too did. I still feel proud of myself at that decision. After taking some snaps and dips in the pool, we had Kakhra with Pickle for our lunch. Even in the mid of day the weather was chill, so I slept in the flat rock directly under Sun. Nothing better than a Sun bath after a chill bath.
We continued walking along the stream after the power nap. Along the way by 4 pm we reached a gorge. Though it was filled with water we didnt had to do a ferry. Tall people walked with backpacks in their head and people like me waited on the other side for help..:)
We continued walking along the down stream until we reached a 50 m high falls on the left side. The falls was caused by two side streams joining from the left. It was 5 pm by then and underneath the falls we had flat space perfect for a camp site. We requested Peter, to camp there and he agreed to it half minded. He wanted to push off some more distance that day, but the place was so beautiful.
Since we had lot of time until its dark, we climbed along the sides to reach the top of falls. The view was nice, and I liked the side stream very much. The stream was around 30 to 40m wide and as far as you can see it was flat rock. I took a walk around with Prem,Sridhar and Raja enjoying the greenery all around us.
That night we had Maggi noodles again with Soup. Peter prepared a camp fire in the mean time which saved us from the chillness for some time. We had a very cold night. The place was open and very near to the bottom of falls which worsened the situation. I could some how manage with my S15 sleeping bag, but even exposing my face outside for some time chilled my whole body.
On day 3, our plan was to visit a rest house made by Forest department and then follow a stream all the way down to the camp site. Day 2 camp site was in an open area and by the time we started it was too sunny. We got a small trail near the camp site itself, which saved our time. Following the trail we saw ruins of an old forest rest house and a watch tower.
To reach the forest rest house on top of hills we had to follow a Jeep trail. Since it was going up, the trail was going in a zig-zag way. To save time, we climbed straight up. After reaching the top we got back into the Jeep trail which lead us straight into a shed made by Forest department. We could also see some ruins near this shed. Peter along with a group of trekkers started exploring the place for more ruins of historical importance. I somehow found a trail near the shed. Out of curiosity, I followed it for 500 meters which lead me to a running stream. In the terrain map this stream was nothing of particular importance, but to my surprise it had water. I realized how well planned the location of this rest house(shed) was. There was a shiva linga made of cement on a rock in the stream. Prem did Pooja, while others relaxed near the stream.
Our next itinerary was to go to the origin of another stream and follow it all the way down to the proposed camp site. We tried to find a Jeep trail, but it took around one hour for us to catch the Jeep trail. We followed it and got down to the stream. At the beginning of the stream there was a 100m falls. We didnt spend much time there. As it was 12 pm we wanted to reach a scenic pool, where we can enjoy the lunch. With this in mind we started going down the stream over the boulders. In one and half hour we reached a small pool where we decided to take lunch. Arun prepared Aval with sugar in the chill water for lunch.
At this time two of our fellow trekkers – Thomman and Sridhar was not feeling well. It was just the third day, but they thought that its wise to drop out from the mission as once you are deep inside the forest there is no easy exit. They didnt want to slow down the group and so they decided to exit.Peter gave them his GPS. After taking the common food items, we bid them farewell.
With the group count comes down to 11, we continued our mission until the flat point in stream where we set up our day 3 camp site by 5.30 pm. The night went as usual. We had a big camp fire with interesting discussions.
Day 4 was one of the most interesting in the whole trek. Distance wise we didnt move much but adventure wise and scenic wise it was amazing. From the camp site we caught a Jeep trail to start off. In some time we decided to get down to a side stream which eventually lead us into the major stream of the day. It was a beautiful stream with flat rock structure. Every 5 minutes we had a huge pool. We took bath in the first one, but avoided the others because of time constraints.
Following the stream down, we finally reached a stage wise falls. There was no way to go down. We enjoyed the falls. It had around 4 stages covering around a total of 150 m height. After this we had to walk over the ridge without any water. So we decided to take lunch at this point – Britannia rusk and cheese – amazing combo.
After a quick power nap on top of falls we climbed on the left of the stream. We followed the stream over the ridge which gave us a better view of the falls. At this time Arun and few others suggested that we should go a little back and go down to the bottom of falls. We could see a less sloppy part which could lead us to the bottom of falls. Peter was doubtful about this, because he have never tried before. Anyway it was decided to give it a try. We went back a little and started descending down. Raja and Prem lead the way.
With some tricky down climbing we finally reached the falls. It was amazing. It looked a lot bigger from the base than it looked from the top.I immediately took a bath under the falls. We went down one more stage. Swimmers started even diving into the large pool. They said it was very deep. I silently sat there enjoying the beauty of the water falls.
We went up the same way we came down and followed the ridge further north. By 5.30 pm we reached a forest rest house(shed) where we decided to camp. Last three days we camped in the open and so it was cold. But this time the shelter helped us to have a better sleep at night. As usual we found some old ruins near this shed. Arun prepared the dinner – Puliyodharai rice, and Peter made a nice camp fire.
Day 5 was a long walk with really steep climbing ups and downs plus a beautiful pool. We followed a dry stream for a long time with not much change in the terrain. By around 12.30 pm we faced a very narrow gorge on our way. This was the most interesting part of the day. We had to ferry the luggage in many places. The team work played an important role here. We stood in a line passing the bags one by one. Once few bags were passed, the guys in the front moved ahead to pass the bags over the next obstacle. There were 5-6 obstacles like this and everything went in perfect harmony. No time was wasted standing around.
The best part was overcoming a small sliding kind of falls. We climbed around the sides and passed the bags first. The sides were slippery but few fellow trekkers like Nithin,Prem and Raja helped me to reach safely. Peter was happy after the gorge, he said “good team work guys”. I also felt the same and felt proud of being part of such a team.
In some time we exited the stream climbing to the left side of the stream. It was a steep climb and as per Bharani, “a 4 leg climb”. We reached a saddle and now it was time for us to go steep down to join the stream below. Peter said that we had to climb down a total of 250 m down. Before the climb down some of us climbed a little to get a better view at the ridges and valleys around us. It was a spectacular view. I thought, this place is really unique.
The climbing down was tricky with many loose rocks. Luckily we found a slight animal trail which was relatively easier to follow. In around one hour we reached down the stream where we took a power nap and lunch.
We continued walking downstream to reach the camp site as soon as possible as it was getting late. By 6 pm we reached the camp site. It had flat rocks, perfect for sleeping. Next to the camp site there was a huge pool. The specialty of this pool was that it had a gorge which looked like a cave. The water has carved the gorge really beautifully. And one more thing to mention is that this is the only place I have seen big fishes. While looking for dry woods for the camp fire, I got a fishing hook and thread. I tried my luck and I caught a big fish. We barbecued it on a stone with some masala and salt on it.
On day 6, our plan was to visit a huge falls first, and then climb up and camp near a forest rest house. When Peter briefed the map, it sounded easy but wasnt.
We pushed off from our camp site by around 9 am. From this place there is a proper village trail or Jeep trail which you can use to exit the forest. On our way we saw a relatively big temple with few smaller ones nearby it.
To reach the huge water fall, we had to walk around 2km upstream. The rest of the day, we had to follow the same stream but water fall was a dead end. So we kept our bags in one place and went ahead to check out the falls. The next 2km was full of big boulders. It was exhausting but I enjoyed it. In 45 minutes we reached the base of the falls. It was so huge, should be around 150m high. And the pool under it looked like a football ground. I didnt jump into the pool. I sat on a rock and enjoyed the pool and falls. The people who swam across for taking a dip in the falls looked so small compared to the falls. They looked like ants. They said that the water was ice chilled.
By around 11 am we started back. In 30 mins we reached the place where we had kept our bags. Now it was time for us to climb up to reach the top of falls. We climbed on the right side of the stream. The start of climb was full of loose rocks. I was at the back and each person ahead of me, was rolling loose rocks down when they climbed. It was frightening. One loose rock can do a fatal damage and end your trek. Luckily everyone was safe. We climbed further up. It was steep and some sections tested our rock climbing skills.After reaching the top we walked over the ridge to reach the top of falls,where we took our lunch. It was raining by then, we made a small camp fire to warm ourselves.
We followed the same stream up, for 3 more km. The way was too bushy and thorns slowed down our speed considerably. In some time we reached a Jeep trail which took us to the ruins of an old forest guest house. We looked if we can camp there, but it was no good. We moved ahead and saw a watch tower. This place too was not suitable for camp. We walked further on the Jeep trail until we found a flat space. Since it was raining in the afternoon we had to set a proper camping site.
The whole team of 11 was split into three groups – one for getting water from the stream, one for setting up camps using tarps,one for cooking and collecting firewoods. I was part of camp set up team. We made two nice tents in an hour. By that time Peter and Prem went to the stream and got water. Arun and team got enough firewood for the night.
That night we had Tomato rice. By then it was raining. Most of us went inside the tent. Peter was doing some planning with the maps for the next 3 days and when he was done he called all of us inside.
The biggest surprise for the trek came by then. Peter explained the plan for next 3 days. I was thinking why he is telling it in detail until he said “Guys I have a surprise for you.I will be leaving tomorrow morning. The next 3 days you have to go on your own”. We were like “what????” Later he told us that even before the start of trek, he planned to exit on day 7. Though it sounded weird at first that was the best thing he did as the organizer of DFS. The real surviving and courage was into play from that moment onwards. For the next three days, Peter wont be there to push us. He wont be there to navigate the way. I felt some voidness all of a sudden. I think most of us felt the same.
Next day morning Peter left by 4 am. He took 3 of our co trekkers who had some leg injuries. Before leaving he shouted “7 survivors”. I felt proud. We woke up at 7 and re distributed the food. All the common items was left by people who dropped out in the morning. My bag became heavier again. It was heavily raining throughout the morning and I was shivering.
After taking some Aval as breakfast we started following the Jeep trail till the stream. Initially the Jeep trail was difficult to track, but later we managed to be on track again with the help of GPS. We covered around 4 km in one hour to reach the stream. Peter had told us to follow this stream. But it was full of water, so I decided to take the ridge to make things easier. That was a good idea, because we reached the main stream in one and half hour. The rocks in that stream where very slippery. We were walking like snails. Occasionally some one fell down on boulders due to the slippery rocks. We continued our trek through this stream. Lot of side streams where joining this stream and all of them had water due to last day’s rain.
We took lunch in between and followed the stream until evening. As we went down the stream,it got even more flatter, but it didnt make the things easier. The heavy rains caused the stream to widen because of which we had to walk in the bushes on the side of the stream. The way was too thorny. I was walking in the front and it was a real test of patience to walk in that terrain. I wondered how Peter manages to patiently navigate in his treks. The last 1 km in the stream was of flat rocks. This terrain seemed easier and I was happy to get rid of the thorns. In some time we reached a good pool which was a good possible camp site. Since it was raining and getting late we decided to camp there. Aditya said that in one of his earlier trek, they camped at this exact place. We quickly managed to build two tents with the tarps we were carrying.
That night we slept early after having Aval for dinner. At night it didnt rain much and I had a good sleep.
Since we had a long sleep in the previous night we decided to start the trek early. But still I was not feeling like getting out of my sleeping bag. There was no fire wood available. So we decided to eat Oats mixed with water. But it tasted really bad, atleast for me. so instead I just took a five star chocolate.
We started the trek by 8 am following the stream down. In one hour we reached a dead end or water fall. It was special because there were two falls originating from the same point. We spent some time here enjoying the gorge below and taking few pics. To follow the stream we had to climb up left. Filling our bottles with half liter water we started the last climb of the trek. The climb wasnt that steep as we have done before, but the bushy terrain still made it uneasy. We climbed around 150 m up and then followed the stream along the ridge. By around 12 pm we reached a side stream which will join the main stream which we had to reach. This part was interesting. If you dont know the way you will get stuck here because its way too steep except in few areas. But I have been here before, so I knew that we had to follow an animal trail to safely go down. Finding the animal trail was a challenge. But luckily with the help of GPS I found the familiar rock structure I saw in the last trek. I noticed the slight mark of an animal trial. A smile returned to my face. We started following it. There were many trails splitting up, but the GPS trial from the last trek helped us to be on the right trail. We made it all the way down to the main stream by around 1.30 pm. I recognized the camp site I was in, before 6 months. It felt so nostalgic.
The day was kinda sunny, so collected some half dried firewoods and with the help of camphors we prepared noodles. That was the main course of meal we had it in last 2 days. It was delicious and gave us the energy to push off the last stretch of the trek. After taking a power nap we followed the stream further down. It wasnt anything like last time I came here. The streams were flooding. Most of the boulders I used last time was under water. We had to walk on the sides of the stream which slowed us down. Even crossing the stream took like 15 minutes. I was surprised after seeing the vast change in the situation after one day’s rain. By 5 pm we reached a gorge where we had to ferry our backpacks. Prem and Raja prepared a ferry with two sticks and four sleeping mats. With seven backpacks and shoes we had to do the ferrying four times. Prem and Arun did that job well even when the stream had that much current. Since it was getting dark slowly, we decided to look for a camp site. I remembered seeing some flat rocks after the ferry. So we decided to move quicker until we reach a nice place. By around 6 pm we reached another gorge. Before this gorge there was a flat space to sleep. We decided to set up the camp here.
That night Arun prepared Maggi noodles plus Pasta added with cheese for our dinner. All of us had our stomachs full. The woods werent that dry to make a camp fire. So after the food we went inside our sleeping bags. The sky was clear. Whenever I woke up in the middle of night I could see the stars clearly. I felt relieved that tonight there wont be any rain.
The last day, the exit day, finally came. Time to say good bye to this beautiful place. We wanted to start the trek super early so that we can reach the village by lunch time. The village was around 10 km away and I knew that it was going to be a long journey. But before leaving I wanted to say thanks to the forest. When you think about it, its so surprising that all of us are safe after 9 days of extreme trekking. I believed its not possible without the hands of a higher being. I silently thanked him and promised to come back soon,before the start of the trek.
We walked on the sides of the gorge infront of us. Except a 10m ferry, we had no problem crossing the gorge. In one hour we found a trail which helped us to quicken our pace. Last time when I came here,I followed boulders in the dry stream. But this time the stream had lots of water. Without the trial we would have had a tough time. The trail continued for some time until it got disappeared completely in the bushes. We were in bushes again for next 1km. Luckily we saw a Jeep trail by then which took us directly to the village. It was a long walk. Everyone was tired, but we pushed ourselves to reach the village and to have a good lunch. By 1.30 pm we exited the forest and entered the tar road.
I switched off the GPS after checking the odometer – It said “125 km“…:)