Saturday, February 28, 2009

Part 10 - Kuruva islands

It was around 9am when we were at the Kuruva islands entrance. First thing we did was enquire about lunch; there was only one restaurant it seemed (not exactly a restaurant – it was a thatched roof house). The guys told we would be back for lunch there. Kuruva islands would take 2 to 3 hours to cover depending on how much we roamed about. Jabradamus and I talked to the forest ranger near the main gate and got boating tickets. He told there are numerous small islands that we can visit.

Kuruva islands was separated from the mainland by a small stretch of water and there were two 10-seater boats to take us across. The oarsman were forest staff. On the other side we had a path leading us to the entrance of Kuruva islands. We took a few snaps on the way to the entrance; there were many tall trees on the way and I was misled by a few dried leaves into believing that there was a bird amongst the branches! The strange part was that there wasn’t much movement to be seen – no birds and no small animals around in an area that was like a forest; very odd.

We bought the tickets for entry; you could pay an extra Rs. 100 to get a forest ranger to guide you through the islands but we felt we could manage on our own. As we walked along we took numerous snaps – on bamboo chairs, on tree trunks that were tilted, on tree stumps, on branches and what not.
“Karthik; too much”
“Every time after taking a snap he will check the preview to see how he looks”
“Not just that; he will zoom in to see if he looks perfect!”
We took turns in photography. But the more we walked the more surprised I was that there were no animals around.
“So where are the little islands?”
“There they are”
“Those are just some large rocks in the water”
“They also constitute an island!”

Suddenly there was a forest ranger pointing towards the water; a few people and all of us rushed to see what it was. Viswa who was having my camera exclaimed, “See this”. He had captured a snap of an alligator coming out of the water – it returned back to the water immediately.
“They say that crocodiles and alligators are attracted even by a drop of blood in the vicinity”
“We have Kumar here – he has plenty of extra blood; one drop is not an issue”

We ambled along and came to a pit which had a tree trunk lying across it – you could either step down the pit and climb up the other side or walk on the tree trunk to get to the other side. The pit wasn’t very deep but standing on the trunk did feel uneasy. The guys below were doing photography and asked us to position ourselves better on the trunk. I walked midway on the trunk and then stopped; even if I lost balance I could jump safely into the pit but my legs quivered. At this point the guys below asked me to move a little in front so that they could get a better snap! I had balance but there was a very visible trembling below my knees.
“Hey, you legs are really jittery” Jabradamus shouted from below.
As soon as the photo session was over I darted across back to safe turf. There wasn’t much out here; the area was perhaps good for a picnic spot but there didn’t seem to be anything else of interest. I still didn’t find any bird in the area!

We soon came across a stream and only now did I understand what they meant by small islands. There was a main water body that was separated in many areas by pieces of land leading to the formation of many small islands. The guys decided to cross the stream while Vasanth argued, “What is the point? We will have to come back this side again to exit”.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Part 9 - the life of a writer!

We had breakfast of pooris and started for Kuruva islands. KY and me struck up on a lengthy conversation that continued in the van. We both took the last row in the van.

“Should do something different” he said.
“Something other than just visiting normal tourist spots”
“Yesterday’s trekking was quite different from a typical sightseeing”
“Yes, I should have come for that – missed it”
After a little thought he continued, “We should just mix with the local people and experience their lives”
“It will be fun especially here where language is also a barrier. Just be left alone”
“Right, and it should be alone; not in a group”
“I’ve generally seen that when we are in a group we don’t do certain things; we tend to be more shy and conscious when in a group. But when alone we are more bold”
“Fear of those who know us! And we shouldn’t go through all these travel tours”
“Ya, they will take us where they want to go and hurry through the whole thing. It is good to plan the entire trip on our own”
“Stay at cheap places and mingle with the local people”
“Like farm side houses and lodges”
“The people might not talk with us but still it will be a good feel. Should also have one local contact in the country in case of any emergency”
“It will be awesome, all alone in a foreign country”
“Should not be one or two weeks also. Should be for at least one or two months in which we can travel at our own leisure; see what we want to and maybe even without planning. Just wander around from one place to the next”

I was dreaming about it; it would be great to travel like that, loitering in a foreign land with no worries or cares.
We were travelling for 20 minutes and by now a few of the guys had dozed away while some were just gazing idly outside. Only KY and me were in non stop discussion.

“I wonder how much it will cost” I mused.
“You mean a trip abroad?”
“Hmm – going to a foreign country and staying there for a month. Should work out the cost and see”
“These famous writers can enjoy in the name of researching for their book!”
“Need to get one bestseller. After that whatever they write will sell”
“Have you read that IIT story; Chetan Bhagat?”
“Yes, read that one. But didn’t read the other two by him. Guys said the other two are not great”
“I am yet to read the first one. But after that it is like whatever he writes will sell”
“Same with our Booker prize winner; the White Tiger”
“That book is all about corruption, poverty and all. Readable but I was curious to read it to see how a Booker prize winning book is”
“He is now very popular”
“And other books written by him are in Landmark bookshop’s top selling books! One clicked and now everything of his will click”
“Write one bestseller and then travel around the world. What a life”
“And if anyone asks what are you doing you say that you are researching for your next book”
“But seriously, books written like that will sell well because you will write in fine detail facts about different places; man, what a life that would be”

And both of us chatted pretty much non stop throughout the ride; travel, books, writing as a career and what not. After a couple of hours we reached out destination – Kuruva islands.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Part 8: The night...

Some of the guys went to get drinks while the rest of us headed back to the hotel. There were a few foreigners waiting to check in.

“How did those people land up here?”

“It’s not that great a place”

“All connections – hotel will give commission to the auto drivers and cab drivers for every person they bring here”

“And searching on the Net will throw up their website”

“But the place looks awful on the website. We were actually quite worried about how this place would be when we saw the photos on the Net”

We took the keys from the receptionist and enquired about the wildlife reserve.

“There you might not find any animals – sometimes you will sometimes you won’t”

“So is it better to go to Kuruva islands or the wildlife reserve?”

“Kuruva islands” he declared and with that we dropped the plan of the wildlife reserve.

The guys who planned to drink didn’t come for dinner and instead asked us to get food for them. The rest of us went in search of a restaurant along with the driver. As we walked, we discussed about tomorrow’s schedule.Vasanth tried to get details from the driver.

“Kuruva islands would take how long”

“Ah, Kuruva; you will reach at 2”

“Oh two in the afternoon; hey, Jabradamus it will become 2 when we reach there it seems”

It seemed odd because according to the map it didn’t seem like it will take more than two hours.We questioned the driver again and he said it will take 2. After a while we realized the driver actually meant 2 hours drive and not 2 o clock! We had chappatis, parathas and biriyani for dinner. We packed a lot of parcels for the guys who stayed back in the hotel. On our way back we stopped at a grocery shop and had a different Keralite sweet - each piece was specially packed in a paper.

Back in the hotel, I joined Jabradamus and KY in their room. There was some movie called The Fountain which was running on Star Movies.

“That is supposed to be a good movie”

“Oh, what is it about?”

“About some fountain of life and about a tree but I didn’t understand it”

KY shouted looking at the screen, “Hey this guy”

“What this guy?”

“This guy is that guy?”

“Which guy?”

“It’s wolverine”

“X-Men guy you mean”

“Ya – Hugh Jackman”

“Na that’s not him yaar – you are confusing”

For 5 or 10 minutes we debated over the actor but never reached a consensus. We then tried to follow the story line and unfortunately couldn’t do that either.

“It’s good they put English sub titles”

“Ya, otherwise need to keep volume in full blast and listen to each word. We’ve already missed most of the movie”

The scenes kept jumping between the past and future and between some dimensions. There were two Hugh Jackman’s or probably three – at least one of them appeared quite clearly like Wolverine and there was a huge tree. There was one Hugh Jackman floating in the air in a yoga posture. And the entire story was complete confusion for us – just like how any Hollywood movie is when you try to butt in the middle! We took a break and watched the guys who were having a drink; none of them had a heavy drink and all were within control though some interesting scenes arose.

“Eat da – eat the biriyani. Why aren’t you eating?”

“What is there to eat? You have eaten double your share and now you want me to eat the leftovers”

“Eat yaar” he repeated.

There was actually nothing left over!

“He drank it like water and kept on eating whatever was near him” someone complained.

When we returned back to YK’s room, it was the ending of Fountain – the tree of life was growing out of Wolverine’s body; then there was another Wolverine who was planting a sapling in another world. And finally in the credits screen YK exclaimed as if he had won the lottery, “See – I told you. It was all Hugh Jackman!”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Part 7 – Too late to regret

(based on suggestion from Ankita we will try to add relevant snaps to the travelogue; hope you enjoy it)

I was quite hungry and so was Viswa. We bought a Tiger biscuit pack and a bottle of water.
“Oh, they make special Tiger biscuits with coconut added here”
“Yes; coconut added to everything”
It tasted different but in the hunger I didn’t mind the difference. Before entering the van, I spotted a beautiful bird on a tree top. I used the maximum zoom possible to capture it. After four attempts I got one where the bird was in the frame. Vasanth tried next to capture a better snap of the bird – it was a matter of keeping your hand steady. He also captured one nice picture. Praveen saw both of us trying to photograph something and he also wanted to try his hand at it. We were trying the patience of the guys inside the van!

According to the original plan we thought that from 1pm to 3 or 4pm maximum we would be in the caves and after that would have ample time to go to a waterfall. We had grossly underestimated and it was now 5:30pm. Next stop was Meenmutty waterfalls – we weren’t sure if it would be open but there was nothing else we could visit and so we thought of checking it out.

On the way Jabradamus, our trip coordinator asked, “We can decide on the plan for tomorrow”.
“How many want to go trekking tomorrow?”
The original plan was that we would go on a trekking trip tomorrow – on some actual trekking spot. Today’s trekking above the caves was not part of any trekking route.
“We did trekking today; why do it again tomorrow?”
“I’m asking because few of us went all the way but others didn’t. So if they want then we can go tomorrow for trekking”
“Na no need”
And so the trekking idea was dropped. There was a reserve forest to which we could go early morning and there was another sun rise valley we could visit.
“What to do in a reserve forest? There will be nothing”
“There is a jeep trip for 1.5 hours”
“It might turn out that we see no animals as well”
“But for all that we should start by 6am or so”
“Time is not a problem”
“The only problem is the guys there”, someone said pointing at Vasanth and Barath.
“Oh no problem you can just lift us and bring us to the van!”
“Or you go to the reserve forest and then come back and wake us up”

Meenmutty falls was closed – no more visitors allowed for the day. And so the next stop and last stop for today was Karapuzha dam. As we headed towards the dam, it was sunset time and the skies looked beautiful in the orange hue. If we had reached the dam 10 minutes earlier we could have had a perfect view of the sun setting with mountains on either side and still waters in front – it would have made for a beautiful picture. There wasn’t much to see in the dam – it is just still waters and a barrier. Praveen, Vasanth and I were experimenting with the night photography setting on my camera while the others were having a dip in the water. I reminded myself – no water! There was no staff around but plenty of tourists kept pouring in. People just walked the 500 meters stretch of land close to the water and returned back. As darkness set in we moved out from the dam.

The return trip back to our hotel was fun; Santanu started singing – he had a beautiful voice and sang well. He started with a couple of Hindi songs but on demand he switched to Tamil with Vaaranam Aayiram songs; Vasanth and KY provided the chorus support. Typically in such situations you never sing a complete song – you tend to keep jumping songs after a couple of verses. And so it went on for about 30 minutes or so along with pulling someone’s leg! I was reliving the trekking trip; I still couldn’t believe we had climbed it and returned in one piece!
“You guys should have come up – at least KY and Prabhu. It was awesome”
“Ya, should have”
Oh, well; it was too late to regret. They’d have to wait another day to live that experience.

( be continued...)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Part 6 – One step at a time

The more we climbed the more we thought about how hard the descent would be. To add to our joy there were a few teenagers returning down who said, “Going up will be easy; you will suffer while coming down”. Not exactly the same words and tone but they actually hurled a few words at us like a curse which meant the same.

After all our efforts we did reach the top; from the 11 who started only 6 of us made it all the way – Bharath, Praveen, Jabradamus, Kumar, Santanu and me. It was exhilarating to be at the top and at that moment we were the only ones at the top.
“Mobile signal is very clear. It must be a direct satellite link at this height!”
The Airtel signal was strong and I exchanged a couple of messages with a friend from the top of the hill. Kumar and Praveen who were from EEE batch of engineering posed for a snap beside a boulder that had “LBSCE EEE 06-09” painted on it.

“Those guys must’ve carried paint with them all the way up!”
After a few more snaps and absorbing the beauty from above, we started the descent downhill.
“I am not going in front of Kumar. If he falls I will also be pulled down. Let him go in front”.

And so it was – Kumar took the lead and went ahead of us. Let every man defend himself!
I made for the rear of the group with Santanu in front of me.
“Remove your shoes; you will have better grip”
I didn’t; I felt comfortable with my Nike and trusted it for grip.
“We have to go so far to reach the place where Vasanth is”, Praveen shouted pointing down.
“Don’t look too far down – it’s frightening”
“Just take it one step at a time. Sit down and use your bum”

Using our buttocks made the descent much easier; you just sit down, let your legs free to find the next foothold carving, get a firm grip and then move down. In some places we weren’t able to reach the next carving below and we had to lower ourselves using our arms to reach firm ground. At one point, Kumar took a diversion on the right while the rest of us went on the left side. It was a circle and so both paths met again but Kumar’s path was the path less trodden upon (or perhaps never taken by anyone) – there were bushes through which he had to find his way and then jump at an awkward angle to join us.

Santanu who was in front of me got stuck at one place – the place where we climbed up using a tree branch. He was circumspect about how to get down. Praveen from below shouted, “Just place your leg there”.
“But it is slippery there”
“It will be fine; just hold on with your hands and step over there”
“But my hands are also all slippery with the sand”
Santanu was a bit jittery but after someone advice from Praveen below he tentatively placed his foot on the spot Praveen pointed. I was happy that he finally moved because I was stuck in an awkward position straining my ankles.

We continued downwards, going down the vertical ladder and soon reached the spiderman area. After clicking a few more pictures there we went to the other side and continued our downward journey.
The rope walking was easy going down and our descent was very rapid and smooth. There were no hiccups and we reached Vasanth’s area after spending three hours in the hills. We washed our face in the water that was coming out of a tube.

We stopped for having lime juice before we went down the 1 kilometer road. At the pit stop we did pull legs again – about Kumar finding his own route and Santanu complaining about slipperiness everywhere!
"And now I know why those kids cursed us while we were going up!"

The one kilometre road down was easy this time; Viswa and me literally ran down the slope.
“I can’t walk on this slope. It is easier to run”
“Ya; if we try to walk our calf muscle hurts”
The only problem was the rash jeep drivers who raced past us. At around 5:30pm we were back near our van.
“You can go slow if you side step – that doesn’t hurt”
But both of us were happy to fly down the road.

( be continued...)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Part 5 -Spiderman

The rest of us went up. After some more climbing up rock steps and paths having very few foot holdings we came to a place where there were huge slabs of stones. One of the slabs was at an inclined angle. To get to the other side we had to crawl through a small crevice between the inclined slab and the rocks beneath.

“And now we have to go like spiderman!”
“Why are we doing all this? What are we going to get to see?”

The crevice could barely accommodate one person; we had to lie almost flat and side step. On coming out at the other end Karthik happily announced, “SS, here we are and there we have to go!”

I followed his hand and what I saw stunned me. I could see people climbing up another hill – and there were people at three fourths the height of the hill; I couldn’t fathom how we would ever get to such a distance and height. It just seemed incredible.
Santanu said, “Karthik, keep my camera”.
Karthik was wearing the baggy type pant which has umpteen pockets. Only now did I realize that my camera was with Vasanth! There was no way I could go back, get it from him and return.

The next portion was relatively easy – not much of a slope and easily walk-able. But to get to the base we were confronted by a 45 degree inclined ladder that was literally dependent on just one soldering on one of its legs. On going up the ladder there was a stony surface with no foot holdings – you couldn’t walk just like that; instead there was a thick rope which you had to hold on to and walk to the other side. I bit like rappelling – you depended solely on the rope and nothing else. Each time you wonder how you are going to cross such things and each time you somehow make it across. All of us went over to the other side. Viswa and I were the last; behind us were a couple of girls who were sceptical about coming over using the rope.

Viswa enthusiastically shouted, “If you feel confident you can come otherwise don’t”
Then he continued, “This side we can help you but while going back you have to go on your own”.
“So only if you are confident come”.
I whispered, “So you are waiting here to give them a hand eh?”
He smiled.
There was no need for either of us to give hand because one girl started and came over. After she came to the other side, her friend deserted her and returned back.
“She deserted you!” we exclaimed in unison.
Apparently the girls had come along with a few others and so this girl joined another guy from her group.

The more we looked up the more frightening it seemed – people were visible at heights way above us. And yet we kept moving. The trek got tough from this point onwards. You had to ensure you had your foot on some footmark holding to move upwards. Some of the rocks were very lengthy and we needed to stretch our legs to the maximum. We were soon confronted by another ladder – this one vertical; as you climbed up you could feel the ladder waver! Karthik halted his climb upwards because his slipper had broken. Next we came to a point where you had to hold on to the branch of a tree to lift yourself up – Viswa dropped out from the group at this stage. Further on we were confronted by sharp ascents that we felt would be very tough to descend – the stones were too smooth and if you didn’t find the foothold carvings there was no way you could get any grip on those stones.

“How will we come down?” Santanu asked.
“It will be pretty hard. Either we go on or we stop and turn around now”
For some unknown reason, perhaps the thrill of it and perhaps the fact that we weren’t the first to take this path prodded our body along.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Part 4: Eddaikal Caves - the fun begins!

The driver told us that we would have restaurants near Eddaikal Caves and so we decided to have lunch there – after a 30 minutes drive we reached our destination. There was just a small board which said “Welcome to Eddaikal Caves”.

There were only two restaurants out of which one was not functioning. We ventured a little further but only found a snack bar and a few craft shops. We returned back to the restaurant and had to wait for 10 minutes to place our order – it wasn’t crowded but the waiters were busy serving two other tables. We ordered a few plates of parathas and few meals. “White rice or red rice?” asked the waiter.“Red rice” Red rice is the Kerela rice – a little bigger in size and supposed to be healthier. The food was good; though we were circumspect about red rice at first, we didn’t find much difference in taste compared to the white rice. Or maybe we didn’t feel any difference because of the extreme hunger all of us were in. The meals was typical like what we usually have – sambar, curry, morkolambu, applam and the good thing was that even applam was unlimited.We were told that we would have to walk a kilometre to reach the actual entrance to Eddaikal caves. It might have been just a kilometre but it was an upslope road all the way. To add to our misery there were two jeeps plying up and down that were dropping people at the entrance. The drivers had no consideration about foot travellers and seemed like they would be more than happy to bump us off; each time a jeep came the one in front would sound an alert, “Jeep approaching. Step aside” and all of us would step as far aside as possible.

“One step of SS equals two of mine. He is going up easily”, remarked Viswa. Vasanth was the one who was most tried.“Hey, look at him. Vasanth is pushing himself!”He had both his palms on his back and was actually trying to push himself uphill. We took turns to take the lead; suddenly there was a burst of energy in KY and Jabradamus. Jab shouted, “Let’s run”. And KY followed him. It reminded me of Greek legends where certain heroes would raise a war cry that would lift up the spirits of their troops! Both jogged for a few metres before tiring out.Finally after walking up the rock steps we reached the actual entrance to the caves – there was a ticket counter. We sat down for a few minutes before proceeding to the ticket counter.“No problem guys – there is no one in sight below us; so we can sit till the queue moves”.The entrance and exit was the same path and the width was just sufficient for one person to pass through. Soon we guys treaded up through the entrance.

“So what’s up there? What do we see when we go there?”

“There will be a room from where you can see a view” someone joked.

Actually there was no room – there were huge stones shielding us from the afternoon sun; there was a tube from which water was gushing and then there was a path going uphill again. There were metal steps, rock steps, gravel steps and mud to traverse through. There was a stretch of path where there was a metal rusted ladder lying at a slight inclination. You could either take the rocky path on the right or trust the rusted ladder! We soon reached a platform from where there were steps on the right side leading to a small enclosure. This was the cave – huge stones flanking either side with a huge stone on top creating a nice enclosure.

“What if that stone fell?”

“It will be instant death – you won’t know anything at all”

“Will be terrible; what they call a koduram saavu”

“Might seem so but it will just be a split second!”

The stones on either side contained many carvings. Not natural marks but carvings made intentionally – weird symbols.“I wonder how they made carvings at such heights”, observed Jabradamus looking at patterns made near the top of the stone.We took a few snaps posing near the stones and then moved on to the left side of the platform. There were a few rocks leading further uphill; Vasanth halted at that point. Along with him KY and Prabhu also stopped. They weren’t keen on going up.

“What is there further up?”

“Oh, probably nothing”

“Some viewpoints maybe”

(…to be continued…)