If you know your adversary and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your adversary, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither your adversary nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle – A slightly modified Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Flashback to December 2015 : No idea about whom we were trying to conquer. We underestimated our opponent and over confident of our abilities. We had the will but we couldn’t find the way. We planned a lot and fell short. Nevertheless, we did not give up. We learnt from our mistakes, we respected our opponent, we understood our limitations, we figured out how to mitigate our weaknesses and harness them into strengths. December 2015 never let us down, it gave us what we needed to complete our mission. We came back a year later determined, prepared, stronger, confident & with a load of genuine respect for our opponent and this time we conquered.
Read about our 2015 Experiences here :
Winter of 2015, we were refreshingly tired after our experience with the Nilgiri Mountain Railways(NMR) trekking from Kallar to Hillgrove. The Nilgiris brought us down to our knees and were forced to cut short our expedition by at least 4-5 kilometers for various reasons which includes a minor casualty due to slight dehydration. Down, but not yet out a unanimous decision was made to complete the challenge the following year and thus started the planning for the second half of the adventure, which is to trek from Hillgrove to Coonoor on the UNESCO Heritage NMR. After a full couple of minutes, the plan was finalized. Take the NMR ride from Mettupalayam to Hillgrove & trek along the tracks from Hillgrove to Coonor. Book tickets on the opening day and this time be prepared, mentally prepared. Dates, a weekend of Dec 2016. With 5 options for weekends in Dec 2016, we would end up discussing / planning / evaluating individual’s availability, commitments and constraints before we would end up with the weekend of Dec 17-18 2016 to complete our mission. Permissions would be obtained and bookings would be completed in due course.
It was a mildly overcast sky when I returned from work. An unusually busy day at work followed by usual domestic stuff, a day unlike any other. I could vividly recollect the events of that Monday. Extreme fatigue and I had all the symptoms of going under the weather until the weekend. Wanting to cheer me up, for a change, I decided to engage myself in the whatsapp conversations of the selected two or three rail groups, I am a part of. I hate typing on mobiles and not very good at trying to send my message across on text. I kind of need supplemental messaging formats commonly called as body language & delivery tone associated with my postings to accurately deliver my message, which I so lack in Whatsapp and chats. Emoticons can only do so much. Added to that being not an outgoing extrovert myself, a post from me on Whatsapp usually takes a couple of seconds for others to register and realize my presence amongst them. The moment I opened up my chats, I could sense some “tension” and with the lack of real emotions, our group already had a dropout. Apparently some nerves got pinched and resulted in unexpected outcomes. There were already around four dropouts earlier. The group is now down from around 22-23 to a paltry 15-16. I am now struck with a dilemma, as the drop out was none other than my usual partner in crime. With all these uncertainties, I just left the situation as it is and expected time to take care of the situation. It was not until a couple of weeks prior to the planned trek, that issues started resolving itself and not before other emergencies claimed a couple more wickets. Over a quick get together with IRFCAns in Bangalore, PK & self confirmed to have the trek back on track to the organizing team in Coimbatore. With things now looking up and the schedule now back on track, nature had other plans for us.
Week of Dec 12-17 2016. Cyclone Vardah rips apart Chennai. Nature unleashes its fury. Trains were cancelled and those running had unpredictable delays and schedules. NMR passes through some dense jungle, steep & curvy mountainous gradients and is ripe for landslides even during dry weather. It is a very delicate customer and just as Mr Murphy wanted, land slides disrupt the rail traffic on the Hillgrove – Coonoor section just after Hillgrove, the exact section we wanted to trek. All NMR train services stand cancelled until 17-Dec-2016, the exact date we were scheduled to board the “OOTY TRAIN” from Mettupalayam to Hillgrove. The optimistic bunch of railfans that we were and our lack of faith in Mr Murphy’s persistence ensured we did not alter our plans and decided to proceed as scheduled. Meanwhile in Bangalore, my travel partner, being a sincere employee that he is threatens to cancel his trip again prioritizing his official commitments. No longer interested in these uncertainties, I decided to care no more and collected my PRS tickets from him the previous day, 15-Dec-2016 en route from my workplace to home.
By Now, the news was official and the press started spewing its venom. Accusations flew liberally on the mismanagement in NMR, how tourists are made to suffer due to cancellation of these services, how IR whiles away its time without doing any real proactive work. During the course of our trek, we witnessed how NMR was trying to get the tracks cleared of the landslide, which I would present in due course. After all, it is press, who is no longer interested in delivering news, but focused only on TRP, cheap attention grabbing headlines and letting us know how a simple and straightforward twitterati response by an unknown self proclaimed celebrity has knocked the wind out of everyone criticizing them. Little do these armchair activists with 3 inches of makeup, who follow celebrities and pornstars in social media for “real” news, know the real world. Please allow me to vent my frustration because these news articles did make a dent in may plan. I had to spend an eternity in convincing everyone back home, that we are a bunch of crazy folks, but would never do to anything to put anyone of us in jeopardy. If nature had other plans, so do we and we will venture out doing something else. After a challenging session to make people see the sanity and levelheadedness in me, it was time for a conference to decide what to do. It was ultimately decided that we would meet at Mettupalayam and evaluate.
Next Episode : The Trip Starts.