Wednesday, June 21, 2006

River Tern Lodge



It had been quite a while, since we last went on a junglee trip again. Time and again, somebody tried to start the ball rolling, but the potential dates got pushed, and pushed further, because of various deadlines of different groups. Finally, 17th & 18th June weekend was the weekend, when we finally made it.

Sowmya volunteered to find the right place amongst a bunch of available options. River Tern Lodge, managed by Jungle Lodges, seemed to be the most attractive, in terms of prices, and the activities one can engage in. We went with that. With Tojo arranging for transport for the trip, at unbelieveable prices, we were all set for the trip. Twenty people made it to the trip.

We started off from Juniper office, on friday 16th, at 11pm. As usual, we commenced playing dumb charades - the favourite game of junglees, as soon as, the bus hit the road. Again, as usual, the group was divided into the front side of the bus, and the back side. The game would have carried on till morning, but then, the driver had to switch off the lights in the bus, when the bus hit the highway. After that, we switched to antakshari. The game carried on, for quite some time, before the teams began finding it tough to find songs with particular consonants. Then, Theo, a friend of Mukesh, who is on a work visit to India, and works for Ness Technologies, began singing a Greek song, which started with the consonant, that his team was supposed to sing a song, starting with. Pleasantly surprised at his enthusiasm, the rest of us listened to him in awe, for first couple of songs, which he came up with. After those first couple of songs, the other team felt something was fishy, and concluded that, Theo was just making up the songs! Theo was playing wildcards. To counter the attack, the team called upon Ramki to sing "Tamil" songs, starting with the consonants, starting with which the team was supposed to sing songs. The fun continued well, till late in the night, when people started to drop off to sleep.



The destination was not very far, as compared to the other trips, we had made previously, and we reached the place at 5:30am in the morning, despite of a break for a cup of hot tea. The Jungle Lodge people were ready for us, and alloted us five rooms, out of promised eight, and requested us to use those till the other three become available at around 9am in the morning. People got busy freshening up, and having tea, coffee and biscuits. The plan was to go for a short trek in the morning, come back, have breakfast and go for a swim till lunch time. The guide put us in high hopes, by mentioning that we might get to see elephants, on the short trek. Later on, he added a standard disclaimer, "Agar luck hai, to kuch bhi dikh sakta hai" (if you are lucky, you may get to see anything). Needless to say, we were all proved to be unlucky bunch of people. The most exciting animal that we came across was a multicolored spider.



But the trek was a good jump start to the weekend. The way up was quite steep, but was relatively easier than the way down. The way down, was incredibly steep, muddy and slippery. A few of us, Deepti, Rohit, Nilesh, chose to slide through the mud, than risk breaking their brow.



At the end of the trek, we were treated to a sumptuous breakfast consisting of idlis, vadas, and omelettes with bread on the side. As many of us found out, food always tastes better, after a good workout.



Post breakfast, people headed out to the water, for swimming and rowing canoes. The Jungle Lodge people had provided us with five canoes, and a giant inflatable "see saw", which was the prime attraction for the group. We had so much fun, trying to get onto it, and toppling over people, who had managed to get onto it. People rowing canoes were not spared either, and all of the canoes were toppled over mid way, by the swimmers. Thankfully, the lodge people had provided us with life jackets, which could hold afloat upto 120kgs. Even the non-swimmers had a lot of fun, because of that.



Time just flew by, and soon it was time for lunch. The lodge people did not let us down, again, and provided us with another very good round of eats. Post lunch, people retired to their log huts, and slept like logs. The half-awake bus journey, plus the morning trek, swimming and the heavy lunch, took it's toll.




At around 4:30pm, people gathered around again, for a round of tea and biscuits. The next on the agenda was to go for a safari in the wildlife sanctuary, adjoining the lodge. There was another group in the lodge, who were keen on the safari. Due to the paucity of vehicles that the lodge people owned, a few of us, had to share the jeep with that group. Tojo, Jojo (younger brother of Tojo), Theo, Nilesh, and myself, volunteered to join the other group. Little did I know that the decision to join the other group, would turn out to be an experience of a lifetime. Our safari guide, Gangaswamy, was pretty knowledgeable person and told us several facts about elephants. For instance, male elephants grow their tusks, around age of 20, after which, they leave the herd, and wander off in the wild. They choose to live alone. Once a year, they come back to the herd, mate with the female of the species, and then leave the herd again. So, the herd consists of only females and baby elephants. We came across the first tusker, all alone, near a watering hole. We kept a pretty good distance from the animal, who was pretty calm. Next, we ran into a herd of elephants. We were quite close to the herd, as compared to the distance, we maintained with the tusker. There were around seven or eight elephants, and a couple of baby elephants! We did not see them, till quite late. Four of the elephants turned towards us, and growled. Yes, they growled! I have never heard an elephant growl. Because of our proximity to them, and the baby elephants, they felt threatened. One of them, even started rubbing its right forward foot against the ground, just like dogs do, prior to attacking. Gangaswamy explained that, all that was part of the false attack, which elephants normally do, to scare away intruders. Suddenly, a couple of those elephants growled again, and moved a few steps towards us. Shit! I do not talk for everybody, who was there, but I have never felt so scared in my life. I know what people mean when they say, they shit their pants. Gangaswamy, quickly, switched on the engine, which was switched off, turned on the headlights and switched it off again. That scared off the elephants, who retreated. Gathering our wits, we managed to stand straight in the jeep, again, wondering what would be our options, if the other elephants attacked us, from behind us. Running away from the jeep did not sound too appealing. Thankfully, the elephants left us, a few minutes later. Phew! The second jeep with the rest of the group, arrived a wee bit late, and missed all the excitement. But they were lucky to have spotted a few bison, barking deer, in addition to the lone tusker, that we spotted earlier.



Post safari, members of the BBG (Bangalore Bar & Grille) retired to Tojo's log hut, to discuss the problems facing the mankind, and how they could be resolved without disturbing the delicate ecological balance on the planet. The lodge people guessing the seriousness of the discussion, kept bits and pieces of succulent barbecued chicken flowing in. Sipping on your favourite drink, feeling the cool breeze, listening to the waves dashing against the beach, is an amazing experience.



Just before dinner, we debated the activities for the next day. Some people wished to go for another round of safari, and others wanted to go for a longer trek. At the end of it, thirteen people opted to go for the safari, and the rest for the trek. Gangaswamy was informed, and he started the process of procuring permissions from the forest department.

After an excellent dinner, the official game of Junglee commenced again around the campfire. There were a few memorable enactments by Theo. Abhiram suggested that we change the game to enact the characters in the movie, and/or the movie, instead of enacting out the name. Again, Theo ruled, belting out the best performances. Mukesh came close second, with his rendition of "Baiju Bawra". That was quite a lot of fun. Mukesh, who probably, had a wee bit too much of his favourite beverage, guessed the movie, "Chronicles of Narnia", as "Chronicles of Hernia". Ashish on the other hand, wanted to "distinguish" the fire.



People could feel the exhaustion taking them over at the end of the day, and one by one, people began retiring for the day. The final bunch of people retired close to 1am in the morning. With the kind of activities that we did for the day one, one might think that people would get up real late, the next day. Surprisingly, most people were able to get up with the 6am wakeup call. The lodge people served tea in our log huts. The people who planned on the morning safari, left hardly much time later than the decided time of 6:30am. The rest of the gang, had time till 7:30am, to get dressed and proceed on a trek.

The safari gang managed to spot a serpent headed eagle, amongst the other animals, which they had spotted the previous day. They had an opportunity to get down from the jeep, which is normally not allowed, and climb up a machan in the jungle.



The other group, went on a longer, but much less steep trek. As against the previous day, the group were able to see more birds. The group saw jungle fowls, peacocks, and parakeets. Amongst the animals, a few os us, were lucky to come across spiderman, trying to swing a web or two. Finding the amazing spiderman, and the multicolored spider, who was obviously, a very pretty female of the species - hmm, the mind wonders, if there is something more than, what meets the eye.



On the way down, the trekking group came across pugmarks which were purportedly by some animal from the big cat family. Somehow I could not bring myself to believe that. The pugmarks were pretty close to the village, and I was not too sure that the big cats can come out of the forest area, which is cut off from the rest of the world by high fence. It reminded me of the SBI credit card ad.

The safari people arrived at the same time, the trekkers returned from their trek. After breakfast, people had a second go at the water. A few people opted to take a motorboat ride around an island which was famous for it's river terns. That's were the lodge gets the name from. After the motorboat ride, those people joined the rest of the gang, swimming, rowing, and fooling in the water, in general.



After an hour or two, people trooped back for a quick shower and quick lunch, before we left for Bangalore again. Some people were so overcome by the scenic beauty of the place, after lunch, that they wanted to stay back yet another day!




The return trip was quite fun as well. Deva took away the prize for the most interesting enactment in dumb charades for the movie 'Munich'. He started with, what we thought was, some kind of socket, and plug pins, male and female connectors, and what not. It turned out, that he was trying to show us the NIC (Network Interface Card) on the Juniper routers! Soon, we got tired of dumb charades, and switched to singing and dancing in the bus. Deepti and Ramki volunteered to play DJ for us, while the rest of the gang shook the bus, with the dancing. I wonder, how come the driver allowed us. The most amazing dance moves were by Theo (again!), to "Zara Jhoom Jhoom" and a tune from Rang De Basanti. We reached Juniper office back, at a good time, at 9pm, unlike other trips, where we couldn't make it back to the office, before 11pm.



We had a jolly good time, thanks to everybody, who came for the trek. As Aravinth put it, it seemed like people were screened for the participation for the trip. Everyone got along so well, so much that the addition of non-Juniperites made it stronger in flavor than one would expect it to be. Jojo (Tojo's Bro) and Theo (Mukesh's friend) made the group livelier in their ways. To repeat Amit Shah from previous blog entry, to say, that we had fun, would be a gross understatement. Long live Junglees!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Honnemardu

What's a perfect start to a trip? A salsa dance performance by Team 5, 6, 7, 8. And that's exactly how the fun started. As part of a recruitment event organized by Juniper Networks Bangalore, we witnessed some cool moves by the dance troupe who did the Meringue and danced to some popular Hindi songs.

The fun continued throughout the trip and boy, did we have fun! Chirag says "I felt that the Honnemardu trip was more fun, than Honeyvalley trek. Maybe, just cos, there was more time (and energy) for games, fooling around, scaring people, howling at the moon, and being a pest, in general (Hint, hint ;)" A nice summary. Read on for the details. A special note deserves attention: no humans were scared to the extent to cause their death and no Albatrosses were killed during the entire trip.

Chirag, Shraman, Amit Jain, Jay and Sanjay organized this trip. Our schedule was to depart on Friday (the 10th), reach Honnemardu early Saturday, have fun, and leave for Bangalore Sunday afternoon. A group called 'Adventurers' organizes events at Honnemardu, like coracling, canoeing, some other water sports, stay, food, etc. However, they appeared to be pretty hostile towards non-Kannada-speaking population. Thanks go to Vinay for interfacing with them. Amit Jain had booked a 24-seater SRS Travels bus that would take us to Honnemardu and back.

The bus arrived half an hour early, quite a surprise. We left from office (C. V. Raman Nagar) around 10:20. Picked up a few folks along the way, who were spared of the waiting time this time around (see previous trip details for an explanation). The headcount confirmed there were 20 of us, and we were ready for the long drive.

People who counted on getting a sound sleep in the bus had to be disappointed, as Shraman declared the group's name is 'Dumb Charades Group' and not the Junglee group. The bus was divided in two teams, front half vs back half and off we were. The game was played with complete enthusiasm and full participation. We were afraid of not leaving out any movies to enact for the next two days.

However, we were running a bit late on our journey. We were meant to reach Honnemardu around 6 AM Saturday morning, but we thought we'd be lucky if we made it by 9. But we decided to make up for the lost time by adding a lot of fun in whatever we did. After about two hours of playing DCs, we thought it'd be best to catch up on sleep since we had a lot of activities lined up for the next day.

The last part of the journey was slow as the roads weren't good. We reached Honnemardu around 10 AM Saturday morning. We all had to get down and walk a bit as the bus couldn't travel "fully loaded". Once at the gather point, the Adventurers guy, Ganapti, who would be our guide, introduced himself and asked us to stand in a 'semi circle in a straight line', for introductions and head-count. This was a phrase that was to stick for the entire duration of the journey.

Honnemardu-first-view

'Honne' means timber and 'mardu' means lots of. So 'Honnemardu' would mean a place that has a lot of timber trees. The village Honnemardu has been submerged in the waters of the river Sharavati. The place we were at, however, was named Honnemardu in remembrance of the submerged village. All we could see from here was water and trees.

Our first reactions on seeing the place were almost unanimous: "marvellous!" The place is an absolute treat for the eyes, with mountains, trees, water, islands and sand painted on a brilliant landscape. The whole effect was soothing to the eyes and we knew right away that spending just one day wasn't enough to take in everything that this wonderful place had to offer.



With everything set in the natural setting, Ganapati explained we'd have to fetch water out of a well and use it to brush our teeth, bathe, wash dishes, etc. Pretty exciting, we thought. To answer nature calls, there were three Indian-styled restrooms, one of which couldn't be locked. So we were left with just two. We had another option, though. We could go around some bushes and relieve ourselves (and cover the stuff with dry leaves, sand, etc.). There was no mobile phone network around this place, so we were now completely cut off from the outer world -- and we'd be one with nature.


Honnemardu-brushing-by-the-well


Ganapati had made the rules very clear: he'd serve breakfast only when all of us were ready as a group. After freshening up, we had a nice breakfast of idli-sambar. After having our fill, we went back to the well and washed the dishes. We left them near the eating area so that we won't have to get them again during lunch-time. We then trekked atop a small hill to put our bags in a room. A single room for 20 people. That would be OK, though, as we weren't expected to stay there. We'd spend the night on an island. Some people complained that this climb was worse than the entire Tadiyandamol trek. The terrain is quite rocky and filled with sand, so make sure you have your sports shoes around. Floaters aren't going to keep you on your feet for long on this climb. We quickly changed into swimming gear, applied sunscreen generously and were back down with just some spare clothes and cameras.




We then put on life jackets and grabbed some paddles. We were ready for coracling. Ganapti gave us all the instructions and we were first supposed to take a dip in the water just to acclamatise ourselves with it. This 'dip' turned out to be a nice swimming exercise which would continue for about an hour. Many of us didn't know swimming, so this was a good way to get rid of the fear of water or drowning. Each life jacket could handle a 100kgs, so we were all safe. With everyone floating around with ease, some of us started swimming around. There were a few (dead) trees around in the water, they made excellent jump-boards. Even the non-swimmers tried it. A few adventurous of us swam to an island. However, this wasn't good news for the rest of the group, as they were done with their share of swimming and they now had to wait for those people to come back to start with coracling.




A coracle is like a cup floating on water, but it's very unstable. However, no coracle was overturned during our adventure. We did have fun racing around and banging into others. Each coracle can sit 4 people and two people row at a time. We went around some islands (there are plenty of them), and had general fun.

Some time into it, and we started feeling hungry. The swimming and rowing had shown its effect. We all started back and had some nice lunch. We were given an hour and a half to relax, after which we were to start towards the island to start our night stay. We didn't waste much time in starting games again. Dozing is for people who snore. The rest of us played Twenty Questions -- with no limit on the number of questions asked, which became a very enjoyable and enlightening experience for some. Who can guess the blue dot of the Blaupunkt ad campaign or an ashtray, the hygienic object that should be used by all smokers in any number of questions?


The one-and-half hour deadline was upon us, but we didn't want to wake up the people who were sleeping away. So we requested Ganapati to delay things for some more time. We were actually quite disturbed by the fact that we'd have to scale the mini-mountain again to fetch supplies for the night. We couldn't delay it much, and we had to get up there and get an extra pair of clothing, brushes, torches, mosquito repellents, etc. At least, we were supposed to. Most of us forgot the torches and the brushes. We remembered to carry the mosquito repellents, though. However, there were no mosquitoes on the island.


Back down, we put on the life jackets once more ("No going inside water without life jackets!") and were ready for the cruise to one of the islands. The one that Ganapati selected for us was filled with trees... some were already scared at the prospect of spending the night in a jungle.

With our life jackets on, we got hold of the paddles. However, this time, we also carried with us tents and sleeping mats (that's what they call foam out there). We selected our coracles and were rowing off to the island. Once there, Ganapati guided us through the dense tree cover to a plain flat land which would be our base for the night.





We then again made our way through the forest to collect firewood for the campfire. In pitch darkness, with just a couple of torches handy, we followed Ganapati. Keeping pace with him was very difficult; we had to take care of not stepping inside some hole or be alert of any snakes that could be dangling on the trees (thankfully, there were none). We formed a big line and kept passing the firewood collected -- by just breaking the branches off trees, no axe used -- to the last person in the queue. With Ganapati declaring we had collected enough, we made our way back to the base.




Next lesson was to put up the tents. The tents were big enough for four people. Ganapati and his accomplice, Babu, demonstrated how to do it with one tent. The rest of us then got busy into raising the others. That took some time. Amidst a lot of confusion, everyone trying to grab a rope or a rod from wherever they could find, resulting in everyone getting delayed. Ganapati serially helped each group and finally we were all set. Except for our tent, as one of the rods needed to raise our tent was missing. We'd have to wait for Ganapati to come back with another one. We then moved on to start the campfire.




Ganapati showed us the various ways in which campfires are lighted: alter, criss-cross, star (or the Hindi movie-style romantic for-two campfire). They are in decreasing order of intensity. Alter's used for big groups, whereas a star suffices for just 2-3. He said a criss-cross one would be sufficient for us.

Once done, he declared we could start our cultural programmes, while he went back and came with dinner some time later.


Now, cultural programmes here just mean one thing: dumb charades. However, we did contemplate playing some other games like Truth or Dare, Twenty Questions, Mad Ads, Whose Line Is It Anyway, Antakshari and so on. Guess what we ended up doing?





Narrating ghost stories. Now this is something we wouldn't have normally done. But given that all the members of the group were bold enough and no one was really scared of ghosts, this made it slightly challenging to tell a really scary story. Yeah, kidding. "Some people" already had their hands all over their ears. Add to that a white rat that was doing the rounds in a near-by bush. The setting was perfect. How could we let go of a chance to really scare the others out?

A closed group of four people decided to play a prank on the rest of the group. We would throw some stones in the bush where the rat was skimpering around. We would then stare in the general direction of the bushes for a while and then scream out loud while just dropping ourselves towards the campfire. And we did exactly the same thing.




Let me tell you, the effect of the whole thing was enormous. We achieved more than we expected. Almost everyone was scared. The ladies didn't stop screaming.


That done, we returned to our games. We played some games that needed observation and a lot of thinking -- the one with the ups and downs and "who can successfully go to the main land from the island" -- sorry, can't explain in detail as it might ruin the fun we can have with new people in the next trip. This game can just be played once; once you know what it is, you just know it.

By the time we were finished with the second game, Ganapati and Babu came in with dinner. We were all too happy at the sight of it and lapped it up. Yummy.

During dinner, however, we thought of playing another prank. But there was a problem. Whenever anyone saw the four people huddled together, it smelled badness to them. They all tried to join in the conversation. And more people meant more ideas -- to keep themselves safe :-) We ended up deciding on a single target. Jay came up with an excellent idea. Wear a hooded sweatshirt frontside back. This way, the face can be covered with the hood and the backside of the hair is left open. The hands are folded in front of the back and the person sits with his back towards the subject. This gives the appearance of the face being absent but everything else being intact. And just when the subject's about to realize what's wrong, a flashlight (kept in the hands) glows focussing on the (absent) face.

Chirag volunteered to do this. He sat in a tent and Jay set everything up. The effect was quite spooky. The problem now was: how do we get the subject to enter the tent? Abhishek had suggested "Truth or Dare" earlier. We decided we'd go ahead with the game now. And make the subject 'dare'. Funnily enough, the subject himself suggested the game again. Not only that, he also volunteered to dare something, just so that people would play the game. We thought he walked right into our plan. After dilly-dallying for a while, we suggested he visit each tent and shout out his name loud. The campfire was at a distance from the tents, so we couldn't gauge the reaction from where we were, but we did hear a scream.

A plan was also made to scare us... which failed. I was the subject this time, with some "spooky" taps on my shoulders meant to scare me. Think of something better next time!


By this time, no one would trust us. Tension was mounting. So dumb charades was suggested once again, and we all agreed this time. A couple of rounds later, though, we thought it was getting boring. There wasn't enough visibility as well. So we decided to get back to Twenty Questions. But we ended up asking some quizzes and lateral thinking puzzles. This worked, and we all put on our thinking caps. Which meant sleep for some of us. After a day with a lot of activities, the energy levels were low, but most of the group was interested in the puzzles and then the thinking began. This continued for about an hour and a half, in which three puzzles were cracked. Not bad. Some smart people woke up at the exact time a puzzle was cracked, listed to the answer, and went back to their "thinking mode". People who missed the session, check near the end. The questions are put up there. People who enjoyed it, check there as well. There are bonus questions for you.

After the three puzzles, almost everyone was exhausted physically as well as mentally. I say almost everyone, as after the others went to sleep, four people started "howling at the moon". But not before the campfire was extinguished. Ganapati had instructed strictly to extinguish it and throw some water on it so that the ashes flowed away. The fire was extinguished and the ashes were washed away. Back to the "howling". Basically, they started singing melodious Hindi songs so that the others would get a sound sleep. They must've touched some chords deep within, as a couple of people joined them, and others requested for songs. Loud but soothing voices filled the air. The Manna Deys and Kishore Kumars of the team (and also the Altaf Rajas), however, received not much appreciation later. Everyone was just too tired. The singers, however, stuck on to their singing job ("Forest" Gump?) and kept everyone entertained. By the sounds of it, they were enjoying it. And by the requests and comments, it seemed even the audience was enjoying it.

It wasn't as if the audience didn't like the singing, but they were concerned about the vocal health of the singers. Repeated requests to stop from the audience failed to deter the maestros. They, however, stopped just after an hour into it. The requests (both kinds, songs and stoppings) had stopped. Afraid of singing just to the moon, the singers backed off. They too went to sleep. But there were some noises to be heard at random intervals during the night.

Sleeping inside the tents was an interesting experience. With people snoring around you, sleep is something that was hard to come by. Add to that the uneven "bed" and the chilly winds that blowed outside. Even lying down wasn't an interesting prospect. But what else could be done? Nothing. So we just lay there, playing guess-the-person game ("Pehchaan kaun?") across tents. And we slept while playing it.




Light sleepers amongst us were the lucky ones who could catch a glimpse of the rising sun. The photos tell us that we surely did miss the spectacle.





Later, when everyone was awake and freshened up, we removed the tents, folded them and started getting ready for the trip back to the main land. Ganapati walked in with tea and snacks, but we decided to go to the main land and have breakfast. So off we were again on our coracles.


Back on the main land, we had breakfast, washed the plates by the well and got ready for another adventure out in the waters. This time, it was canoeing.





A canoe sits two people. The one in the front rows ahead and the one behind steers. We all went in different directions; some towards the dam, some towards the island on which we were just some time back, and some towards other islands on the other side of the landscape. There are some absolutely marvellous views you get of the islands and the water from the middle of the river. So it's really exciting to row away and just stay on at a point and admire the nature.

Everything went smoothly for most of the part. Except for one incidence -- one canoe was overturned. This was mostly due to not following the instructions that Ganapati had given; so it wasn't very bad. Of course, the life jackets saved the people, but the camera had a nice bath. A paddle was lost in the waters, so Ganapati had to row down to the spot and help the folks.




There also was a surf board (I'm not sure if it was a surf board, but let's call it that). And a lot of fun was had in toppling people over while they perched on it or while they attempted to get on it. This probably was the most exciting water sport we played, as there were a lot of people participating and we always have fun when we see people falling off into waters. No?


We had decided to leave by 12:30, so that we could reach Bangalore around 10, max. 11 in the night. However, we were in the waters till 1:15 PM. We quickly trudged up the mighty hill, got our stuff down, and had our lunch. A few people lazy enough to not wash the plates just left the stuff behind. With everything wound up, this was the time to get into the semicircle again, do a head-count and pose for photographs with Ganapati.




We all boarded the bus, eager to have more fun onboard. During the forward journey, the driver had put on some songs from 'Bunty aur Babli'. And just when 'Kajra' was about to start, we reached the destination. Everyone was looking forward to 'Kajra' now, so on public demand, we all sat watching songs. 'Kajra' was followed by 'Dhoom' and other Abhishek Bachchan movie songs. Thankfully -- as we could get out of this ordeal -- we soon reached a place where we could get some 'refreshments'. We had some 'tender coconut' water as well -- and people say they won't get such delicious stuff anywhere in Bangalore.

Once back in the bus, we started off with our dumb charades. Movie names were followed by movie scenes. A good couple of hours into it, and we still didn't run out of names from the database. All this while having some snacks and 'water'.

Later, we moved on to other games. Twenty Questions was restarted. And while this was being played, a new game was invented. Credit goes to Chirag for the idea and Shraman for the rules. There were thoughts of patenting the game. But I guess writing about it here makes it prior art. So folks, you won't get a patent for 'Pehchaan Kaun'. Yes, that's the name of the game. That's the completely original and novel name given to the game by Shraman.

It goes like this: Now that we'd spent two days together, we knew something about the twenty people. A team thinks of someone and the rival team guesses who the person is. Just five questions and one guess are allowed. To make the whole thing more interesting, another rider was added: a question once asked cannot be repeated later (by either of the teams). A very fun and interesting game, surely. It involved a lot of lateral thinking to come up with new questions to essentially get the answers you want. Like 'is he wearing shorts?' or 'is he wearing a full-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up?'

Definitely a fun game. Things started getting tight too soon, so we had to return to our Twenty Questions. This time around, we played it completely professionally. We had two teams and a referee. The ref took his job very seriously, to the last hash. When a question was asked, it was confirmed from both the teams involved if it was a valid question and if the question was accepted. Once this was done, the question count was incremented and both teams were notified of the number of questions that were asked, the number of questions that can be asked and the number of guesses that could be made. This wasn't the only process that we introduced. After a question was asked, the team that had thought of the personality went into discussion mode. Only after being thoroughly satisfied with the answer they were about to give, and making sure it didn't mislead the other team, would the answer be announced. So a typical round went thus:

Team A: Yes, we've thought of something.
Team B: Real or fictional?
Referee: 1 down, 19 to go!
Team A: Real.

<Discussion ensues. Team B discusses what's the best question to ask next. Team A discusses life.>
Team B: Male or female?
Referee: 2 down. 18 questions and 3 guesses remain.

<Discussion ensues. Team B thinks of next questions to ask for either case. Team A discusses life. 5 minutes later...>
Team A: Definitely male.

With personalities to guess like Tenzing Norgay, Chelsea Clinton and so on, we never got bored. It was challenging and fun. On the way back, we stopped near Tumkur at a dhaba and had our dinner, which was served cold. The referee, of course, didn't forget the count during the time we had dinner and went back to gaming mode.

We reached Bangalore in another hour's time and dropped people along the way. This marked the end of a truly entertaining and exciting trip. To say we had fun would be an understatement. We lived up to the original and the new names of the group: 'Junglee' and 'DC'. I guess we have a new entry to make there as well... 'PK'.


Lateral Thinking questions:
5. Man goes to a restaurant. Orders for an Albatross. He eats one piece of it and dies.

6. A man is in his car in an open space. He switches on the radio, listens to it for some time and dies.

7. A man carries his umbrella to his office everyday (regardless of the season). When he switches his job, he stops carrying the umbrella.

8. A dead man lies in an open field with just a backpack.

5. A man walks into a bar and asks for water. The bartender points a gun at him. The man thanks the bartender and leaves.


Bonus questions:

6. Music stops, woman dies.

7. A rope breaks. A bell rings. A man dies.

8. A feather lies next to a dead man.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Tadiyandamol

Personally, there are a lots of firsts attached to Tadiyandamol for me. It was my first trek in Karnataka. It was the first trek of my first company MindTree's trek group Aarohi. And now it was the first trek of my current company Juniper's trek group Junglee !

Coorg is one of the most green and beautiful regions in South India and Tadiyandmol stands proudly as the highest peak in this region. The view one can get from top of this peak on a morning with clear sky is simply unforgettable.

Anusha who had already been to an estate called Honey valley suggested this trek. We were 23 people in all. Plan was to start from Bangalore late Friday night, reach Honeyvalley early Saturday morning and then start for the trek. Summit the peak and get back to the estate by evening. Stay in the estate for night and start back for Bangalore on Sunday morning with a stop at the Golden Temple, a buddhist monastery at Bylakuppe.

Friday, December 2nd, night:

Dumb Charades:

The 31 seater we had booked was running late. The time when it was suppose to arrive at our office, it was still wandering somewhere in southend circle which is a cool 20 kms away ! Meanwhile, as we were waiting at the reception of Juniper, Dumb Charades kept us occupied. The vehicle finally arrived at 11.30 pm.

Tojo who was feeling sleepy right from 10.00 pm immediately occupied the last row and went to sleep. That it was not such a good decision after all, will dawn on him only later in the journey :)

We all boarded the bus and after a headcount took off. 4 trekkers Sowmya, Kantharaj, Lingaraju and Vinay were suppose to join us from some location on Mysore road. Poor folks had been waiting for us near a junction for around 2 hours. We finally picked them up at around 12.30 am.


Roller Coaster Ride:

That the roads to Coorg are not good was something I had experienced last time I went to Madikeri. But this bad ! For around 2 hours in the night, the road had literally disappeared. Tojo, Pradeep and co who were at the back of the bus had time of their lives ! "Hitting the roof" (of the bus) acquired new meaning that night for quite a few :) Needless to say most of us slept for only a couple of hours.

Saturday, December 3rd:

We reached Virajpet at around 6 in the morning. After calling up Mr. Suresh Chengappa, the owner of Honey valley estate and getting directions from him, we set off for the estate. It took 23 kms and around 45 minutes to a place called Kabinakkadu where we left our vehicle and boarded the estate 4x4 jeeps to reach the estate. This 3 km ride through the estate was a bone rattler !

The Estate:

Honey valley got its name because of the honey bee farming done by the Chengappas, owners of the estate. It is spread over 50 acres. Until 1994, the estate was the largest producer of honey in India (approximately 6.5 tonnes per year), but disappearance of the native bees stopped production. Now the estate produces coffee, cardamom and pepper.

It is maintained by the Chengappa family comprising of Suresh and Susheela Chengappa. Their daughters Savitha and Cynthia help in running the estate. In fact all the room bookings and billing is handled by elder one Savitha. The younger one Cynthia goes to school (some 15 kms away) on weekdays and helps on weekends to look after the guests.

The dogs at the estate also need special mention :) Especially a brown one called Rocky which was too affectionate ! Chirag will be the right person to ask how affectionate a dog can get :)

The houses in the estate are all built with great taste and are very comfortable. After freshening up a bit we had coffee made out of the produce of the estate. Once we all we ready, we went for the breakfast. When we reached the dining room, it was already full of around a dozen foreigners. They were leaving that morning after having breakfast. The round idlis, chutney, sambar, toast and honey were just too good !

Here we go !

After packing quite a few pounds of bread, some cheese and butter packets and some fruits we set out for the trek. According to Suresh, an experienced trekker takes 3-1/2 hours to make it to the peak from the estate. Considering that we had lot of first timers among us, we decided not to rush.

The tough four of our gang Deepti, Prabha, Priya and Sowmya were surprisingly quite punctual. Quite unlike the ladies .. I must say ! :)

The weather was perfect when we started. The sun had not come out yet. It was not raining. We could see clouds cover the peaks around us. It couldn't have been more greener.


Honey valley estate covered in mist Posted by Picasa

Where are we going ?

"Where are we going ?", "Where is our destination ?", "Where is the peak ?" were the questions which I could hear around 5 times every minute. As we were few hills away the actual Tadiyandmol peak, it ofcourse was not visible. And that was actually working quite well. Why .. you will ask ? Well .. read on !

In the clouds:

By now we had climbed the first hill and were amidst the clouds. On our left side we could see a hill covered with mist and a small waterfall. As the sun wasn't out yet, we didn't have any major problems till now. It was as good as it could get. The best part was that we hadn't had any encounters with the much dreaded leeches till now.


A local on the way to the peak Posted by Picasa

Leech attack !

But then it was too good to be true ! We climbed down the first hill and landed in between a really dense shola (an overgrowth around a stream of water). And then one scream followed another. "There are 3 leeches on my shoes !", "Somebody get rid of the leech of my shoe", "Salt please !", "Woah ! This stick is really effective in removing the leeches !".

On top of that, the first batch along with the guide had gone out of the hearing distance. As the path to get out of the shola was not visible, we had to wait then and there itself and hope that most of the leeches around us were not hungry :)

Inspite of tens of SOS calls, the first batch was totally ignorant of the fact that we were stuck up. Then thanks to the modern technology, we managed to call Tojo up on his cell. Phew ! How relieved we were getting out of the shola.

A thorough leech check at the top of the second hill revealed interesting number of casualties. The first aid kits were out ! Lots of us had red patches on our socks. Few of us were not at all happy with the charity work of donating some blood to the leeches.

Omigosh ! Ees thaat the peeek !

Well .. as weird as it may sound, but this was exactly the reaction of most of us at looking at Tadiyandmol peak ! There stood the peak far far away with just 4 hills between it and us. And was it tall ?!

Still not completely recovered from the shock of leech attack, the sight of the peak which looks so distant and so formidably tall was a bit too much for quite a few ! To top it all, the sun also thought that its high time that he blesses the valley with his rays ! Well .. as one with a camera, I was definitely thrilled but then sun rays unfortunately also mean more heat and tiredness.


Sun playing hide and seek with the valley Posted by Picasa


Now, "Where is the peak ?", "Where are we going ?", changed within no time to "Why are we going ?" :) That we were oblivious to the distance between us and the destination till now had been good in keeping us going. But, the very sight of the final destination, changed the equations. And then profound and philosophical thoughts like "Why are we doing what we are doing ?" spring up !

Up and down and up and down !

We went downhill and uphill for quite sometime. By that time some trekkers from first group decided to go ahead and give summiting the peak a shot. Tojo and Manu had summitted the peak a few years back. So, they decided to do it again.


The panaroma Posted by Picasa


On the way, 2 trekkers, Sowmya and Ganesh managed to twist their ankles. Sowmya's was not that critical but Ganesh told that he heard some "click" when he twisted the ankle. "Great !", we thought. After applying Moov and waiting for 5 minutes, we were relieved that he could move his leg and there was no noticable swelling. He however has a tough time from now on.

By now the frequency of "breaks" had increased tremendously. The worst thing that one can do on a trek is sit for a long time. Even if one feels tired and wants to catch breath, the prescribed way is to bend forward (holding the stick if you have one) and inhale and exhale 10 times with your mouth. Sitting and getting up regularly, especially if you have a backpack, consumes more energy. Besides, it cools down your body. Hence, your body had to produce more energy to warm up again.


Part of our group ! Posted by Picasa


Water point:

We reached the water point at around 2.30 pm. For the first time trekkers, it qwas definitely impressive to make it this far.

Four of us, Chirag, Jay, Santhosh and me decide to summit the next highest peak if not Tadiyandmol. So, we set off and surprisingly reached the peak in 15 minutes. The views from this place were awesome. One could see a never ending valley on one side and multiple layers of mountains on the other. We rested there for some time and headed back.


Here I am ! Posted by Picasa


Layers and layers of hills ! Posted by Picasa


Sunlight filtering through the clouds Posted by Picasa


By the time we were back, we could see Manu, Chetan and Tojo also back after summiting the Tadiyandmol peak. Kudos !

Road back:

After having our lunch (bread, cheese, butter) near the water point we decided to start back. Aim was to reach Palace road from where our vehicle will pick us up and drop at Honey valley. The way back though a proper tar road tested our nerves (and knee joints) as it was downhill, steep and never ending.


On the way back from the peak Posted by Picasa

We had a short visit of the palace of Chikkaveera Raja. Built in the late 1700s this palace served as the last refuge of Chikkaveera Raja before he surrendered to the British in the early 1800s.

Back to the estate:

After enduring high treble, nerve wrecking music in the jeep which took us to the estate, we were quite happy to be back safe and sound to the estate. Most of us (I hope) took hot water bath and looked all refreshed by the time we came for dinner. Dinner was zimply zuperb ! Proper home-made Coorgi food after a hard trek is an unbeatable combination :)

Everybody was enthu enough for campfire. And it was great fun ! Again we had an exciting round of .. you guessed it .. Dumb Charades ! Well .. did we get tired of playing Dumb Charades ? ... Nah ! :) We called it off at around 11 pm and crashed into our beds for a lovely sleep.


Camp fire Posted by Picasa


Sunday, December 4th, morning:

The best day in a trek is the one after a hard day trek. The feeling of achievement, lots of oxygen in your blood and a good night sleep (specially in a nice cosy bed as we were fortunate enough to have) is a wonderful combination. So, everybody was in high spirits when they got up in the morning. And the wonderful breakfast that we had only added to the spirits !

We chatted for a while with a foreigner couple who were out travelling for a year, had just trekked in Nepal, done the Annapurna circuit and were heading towards Kerala after their stay in Coorg. Man ! How I wish I could do that !

Golden temple:

We started back at around 10 am. With ever enthusiastic Shraman in the bus, we were playing Dumb Charades again, this time with personality names, brand names and what not.

We reached Golden temple at around 2 pm. After having lunch at a local restaurant (where we discovered Cockroach in one of the gravies .. Eeks !), we went to the monastery. Established in 1960s, this is a beautiful monastery which houses around 3300 monks. The younger monks playing in the garden just behind the main temple is a sight to behold ! We were fortunate enough to able to witness prayers in the temples. It was a wonderful experience.


Golden temple Monastery Posted by Picasa


The main temple Posted by Picasa


Buddha Posted by Picasa

Meanwhile, I saw a group of enthusiasts, asking a lot of questions to a monk. On getting closer, I found that it was our gang. And there stood Prabha, asking so many question that will shame any reporter. "When was this monastery estabilshed", "How many monks stay here", "How many times does Dalai lama visit this place" and so on.


With the backdrop of Sun, Blue Sky and Clouds Posted by Picasa


At one of the temples in the monastery Posted by Picasa


Journey back home:

This was probably the most eventful part of our bus journey ! This time for a change instead of Dumb Charades, people decided to play Antakshari with country names. Within no time, country names with "e" exhausted, and thus came into existence the "e-group" headed by Nilesh and Jeetu. Whoever was unable to come up with a country name was asked to enact something or the other. We were lucky enough to witness so many Junglees in action ! Whether it was proposing Pradeep or selling soap to Pradeep or quarelling with Pradeep for his alleged affair with somebody, we saw it all ! And if you are wondering about Pradeep, keep wondering as it is difficult to find him now a days. He generally goes around covering his face because of all these acts that he never did :)


Ever enthu Shraman ! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


Chirag here ! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


What's my favorite drink ! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


Santhosh here ! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


Looks like its her turn now ! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


What is Pradeep upto now ?! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! (Courtesy Santhosh) Posted by Picasa


We only stopped for a wonderful North Kannadiga dinner at Kamat's near Ramnagar suggested by Vinay and reached Bangalore at around 12.30 am. Whew ! A long journey back but a wonderful one ! :)