Monday, May 4, 2009

Of a midnight trek

I discovered something in the wee hours of Saturday morning. I discovered I had leg muscles. They pulled me up a hill called Skandagiri about 60 km from Bangalore. Needless to say I am now writing this post from bed, agony running through my legs and unable to move.

But boy, do I feel alive.

Yeah ok, so Skandagiri is not a treacherous trek. Full time trekkers would probably scoff at my cribbing. But hey, when you’re living my life which consists of mostly living off the internet, smoking and drinking whenever I have free time, then a trek, however insignificant it might be, is true living. For one, it told me how much I’ve damaged my body and health over the years. And it gave me an experience I wont be forgetting in a long long time.

The plan to trek was hatched about a week ago. A couple of my friends decided they wanted to trek in the moonlight and Skandagiri was famous for that. I hadn't heard of the place (in all my years in Bangalore) and decided to ask around. The response I got was favorable. A colleague mentioned being there and the fact that it was a corporate favorite.

Wait a minute. Corporate favorite? You mean there might be girls there, I asked.

Yes, my colleague said. There’s a 100 percent chance there can be girls.

I was sold.

And so I decided to make the trek. Tell you guys the truth I had no idea what was coming to me. Come on, the most I’ve done in trekking is walking to bus stops or ATM’s and hell you cant call them treks. It should have rung in my mind that I would be encountering 90 degree inclines and steep descents. It should have rung in my mind that I have an intense fear of heights but noooo, the very fact that girls (and corporate girls for that) would be on the peak just blocked out all reason.

Oh well. Men will be men, I guess.

On Friday night I got to know that one of my friends had pulled out. Apparently he didn't like the idea of climbing a hill with only a torch to aid him. I considered that for a while. My family is not in the country at this point. How would they get to know if something were to happen to me. What about bandits ? Being robbed on a highway in the middle of the night in Bangalore almost always left one dead. Was I really going to take that chance ?

What the hell, I thought. I’m twenty-six, and fast looking at thirty. If not now, then when ?

Actually it was still the girls that kept me going.

It was decided then. No turning back. Armed with a white Marlboro drag racing helmet I decided to hop on one of the two bikes and set forth towards the unknown. The helmet was purely for health reasons, I didn't want all that dust accumulating in my already smoke filled lungs. I cant ride a bike. I cant ride it for shit. Somehow I just don't like bikes.

There were four in our trekking party. Armed with instructions downloaded from the net, a couple of water bottles and three torches we set out at approx eleven on Friday night. We took the National Highway via Devanahalli, snapped a couple of pics in the middle of that road, with cars zipping behind us. The ride was fine. My ass felt numb after about an hour but that was ok.

No prizes on guessing which one's me

One thing I distinctly remember is the stars. In Bangalore I could probably count the number of stars in the sky. By the time we crossed Devanahalli, the sky was filled with stars. I don't ever remember seeing so many stars before.

The route was simple. Go past Devanahalli, get to a village called Chikkubellapur. Take a right from the Viswesharya statue. A left, another right and straight on till you reach an ashram. Climb the darn hill from there.

Sounds easy don't it ? Problem was when we got the Chikkubellapur, we couldn't find any darn statue. We actually crossed the village trying to find it. And in the end we rode a good 5 km away from it.

What else to do but turn? So we turned. And asked directions from one of the most weirdest people ever.

I told you we were on a highway right ? Well as we turned we saw an Indica overturned, and I mean overturned as in on its roof right beside the road. Standing next to it were two men and by the looks of it, there was no one in the car. We stopped, unsure if we had a moral obligation to help as both men did not look injured. In fact one of them was drunk.

We asked him for directions and he gave it to us in that cool drunk who-the-hell-cares way. And we left. Simple as that. But thinking about it I cant help but wonder. What were they doing beside that car ? Had they just emerged from a crash ? Were they just passer-by’s trying to salvage what could have been forgotten in the car ? Or did they just stand there to reflect ?

Or maybe, we were the weird ones and were trying to make too much out of what could have been nothing.

Anyhoo, we went back to the village and found ourselves lost again. This time with the help of a few policemen who themselves were drunk. When asked for a landmark, their response was: Devika Bar. We had to smile. They were our kind of people.

But the landmark proved elusive. Chikkubellapur was certainly no Bangalore, and most of the buildings looked the same. What made matters worse was that most of the signs were in Kannada which none of us could read. Which was one of the reasons we found ourselves in the middle of a junction under a streetlight utterly confused. The silence and the absence of people was unnerving. We just weren't used to it. It was by then 12.45 and we’d always been used to being around people at that time.

We stood there for a couple of minutes trying to decide on what to do next when we heard a bike take a turn a couple of meters ahead of us. One of the bike riders zipped off behind it, keeping his finger glued to his horn. Imagine that. You’re on a bike and you hear someone honking his horn behind you. You look in the rear view mirror and you see a biker coming at you like crazy.

Man that must have been a scary image.

Fortunately for us the biker was a brave man. He decided not to flee but stopped and gave us the right directions. We were on our way.

Halfway towards the ashram we picked up a guide. It made sense since we’ve never been here before and it was already close to 2 in the morning. If we had to make it to the peak by sunrise we’d have to know the way up. We had a bit of price haggling but in the end we had a guide for INR 400.

The bike ride ended at the ashram which turned out to be located right at the foot of the hill. The trek started there. And right from the word go something extraordinary happened.

We were welcomed by a snake. Now I don't know if you guys know this, but I adore snakes. You’ll find them in abundance in my home town, but I’d never seen one in Bangalore. But here was one right there in front of us. I’m not exactly sure what kind it was but it was bright green and about a foot and a half. Experience tells us that the shorter the snake is, the more venomous it is. I think that's true. When I described the snake to another friend she said it was a viper. I’m not too sure about that.

Spot the snake - I'll give you a hint: its green

But what a welcome! It was just what I needed to get my blood running. Imagine it, standing under the moonlight in the middle of deadpan silence and training your torch on a beautiful snake. Yeah, I know. Fricking awesome !

Adrenaline pumping in our veins, we started up the hill. An hour later, reality crashed down on me.

I was not eighteen. Those days were long gone. And I’ve not really been the poster boy for Men’s Health magazine. The first thing that hit me was the panting and the loss of breath. Smoking does that to you. The second thing that hit me was the fact that my legs were killing me. Not exercising does that to you. With each and every step my body cursed me with the foulest words ever used. Not to mention that I was cursing under my breath too.

The more I turned the torch to the peak the farther away it felt. A quarter of the way up and we had our first break. And I was ready to call it quits.

But hark! I hear voices. Female voices! Somewhere from up in the distance. What ? A bunch of girls can get their asses up there and I’m struggling on a piece of rock ??? Unthinkable !!!

Needless to say I climbed up the hill and my body screamed at me: YOU FUCKING MORON !!!!

We overtook them and by then I was drenched head to toe in sweat and panting away like a dog who’d just chased a Ferrari. But as soon as I saw one of the girls sitting on a rock and looking at me I willed myself to shut up and converted my panting into manly grunts.

She kept looking at me as I passed her by undoubtedly thinking I was Bruce Banner.

And so it happened that we would continue this cycle for a while. They’d overtake us while we took a break and we’d overtake them while they took a break. I have to say it: that girl got me up that peak. The fact that she was able to climb that godforsaken hill so effortlessly bothered me so much that I resolved to scale that peak … even if it killed me.

Three hours. Three long hours. For three hours I pushed my body to extremes it had never crossed. At some point I’m sure that I broke the barrier of physical punishment. And all of it for some girl whom I hadn't even seen properly.

We reached the peak at around 4.30 in the morning. And relief filled my body as it started the slow and painful path to recovery. The organizers were serving food up there and I gobbled up two plates of noodles. The peak was fairly crowded with a couple of tents being raised and a few campfires lit. There was a group ahead of us who seemed very lively, singing and taking off shirts. There were girls among that group but alas, none of them were topless.

The view from the peak in the morning

We had sat down and were in no mood to get up. There was yet another group beside who were very annoying with their continuous use of the word “dude”. It was always: “dude look at that” or “dude pass me the water” or “dude I wish she was here with me” and worst of all: “dude love is so great.”

I know. Torture. Fucking torture.

But we were too tired to move. And even though I had in my mind a small sort of plan to get myself acquainted to the girl who had motivated me, I just couldn't move. I was more inclined to lying down and watching the stars. Which I did. And eventually I dozed.

By the time I woke up, it was close to six and the sky was beginning to light up. I blinked a couple of times and realized that I could very well miss the sunrise if I closed my eyes.

And then it hit me. That cold cold wind.

For some reason I didn't have a jacket. Or a sweater for that matter. All that I wore was a shirt ( and a thin one too ) and a pair of jeans. That was it. The peak would be freezing cold in the wee hours of the morning, that was a given. And yet I didn't feel the need to carry something to protect.

Cursing my stupidity and my body shivering in disbelief, I woke the others up. Hell if I was going to freeze I sure as hell wasn't going to do it with the others sleeping their way to glory.

So there we were, four guys shivering on a peak. And watching with wonder as the other groups just seemed to have a gala time.

Don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the peak. It was beautiful. The view was stunning. Its just that we weren't prepared for all of this. I think at some point of time as we watched the others have fun we must have realized that our time was coming to an end. A couple of years earlier and we would have been just like them – screaming our lungs out. Now we just wanted to get back home.

The girl was forgotten. I never got to see her. And to tell you the truth. At the end of it all … I just didn't care anymore.

The sun rose

The sun rose. Tired as though we were it truly was a sight to behold. I was on the peak. And there were girls all around me. But i just didn't care. That final scene of watching the sun’s rays spreading across the carpet of fields below us was more than enough.

A couple of hours later we were on our way down. And boy … what a relief that was!

My Waterloo