Conquering The Blues – III

Prologue : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/02/23/mentally-prepared/
Part I : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/03/03/conquering-the-blues-i/
Part II : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/03/24/conquering-the-blues-ii/

Late Lunch
Late Lunch

It was close to a 30 minute drive winding and snaking through narrow, misty, green and uninhabited roads before we reached our stay for the night, a beautiful secluded tea estate bungalow right in the middle of a tea plantation, owned and maintained by Glendale. The pretty evening sky was making its way to a clear starlit light pollution free atmosphere. The estate bungalow was well maintained with 4 large rooms and attached bathrooms. While our cook was busy preparing some evening tea and snacks, the tiredness caught up with us while we gathered around the living room to relive our day. After a nice evening get together we quickly dispersed off to freshen up and rejuvenate for the night that lay ahead for us.

Glendale Guest House
Glendale Guest House
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains

I am a very cynical person by nature and believe that majority of the relationships are just superficial. With the advent of social media, it has hit the extreme and it is not uncommon to find an individual with two conflicting personalities, one real and one reserved for the social media. To illustrate this, I had a small challenge with my family. I changed my Facebook settings not to display my date of birth or send a notification to anyone regarding the same. I also modified my settings to disallow anyone posting on my wall or tagging me. I celebrated my birthday a few days ago and the result was interesting. 2 years ago with no restrictions, I had about 200 wishes including my wall and pm. Last year without wall posting rights, it trickled down to about 50 or so pm and this year, down to one single wish and a few Whatsapp wishes from family and a few close friends. Why do I rant tangentially at times is a question I cannot answer myself, so let’s leave it at that. What I expect is good and a sincere relationship with folks I know and to put in perspective with my birthday experiment, it translates to “I am happy if someone remembers my birthday and wishes me. I am happy if someone doesn’t know my birthday and do not wish me, however I find it weird and superficial when folks whom I hardly know and merely acquaintances wish me because FB reminded them”.

Tea Valley
Tea Valley

Why this philosophy here ? because I cannot express the camarederie and the connection I have built with this group over the past 3 years. It gives me great pleasure and a sense of freedom whenever I go out trekking or railfanning with this group, each one unique with a distinquished background and social statuses, but everyone down to earth at the grassroot level sharing and enjoying a common passion and there is nothing superficial about it or the relationship which we have built over the years. We freshen up soon, settle down, get into some spirited discussions running late into the night accompanied by Ilayaraja’s gems duly distorted and thrown out by overworked speakers of our vehicles, the free spirit getting out the poets and artists amongst us and in the end, a night well spent in the middle of nowhere with like minded friends and without a care in the world. Now that’s what I call a stress buster that can last for a long time. It is moments like this which make you feel alive and worth living for.

18-Dec-2018

The Journey So Far
The Journey So Far
The Captains
The Captains
A Little Bit Of Everything
A Little Bit Of Everything

Sunday Exercise
Sunday Exercise

Dinner, drinks and and loads of discussion ranging from stones used in railway ballast to nuclear submarines, the group gradually disintegrated to call it a day and start fresh the next morning. It was an absolute beautiful morning. Bright sunshine, dark blue cerulean sky, some real tweets, a few local kids enjoying a brisk game of cricket in a short patch of available flat land among sloping landscapes, mist rising and gliding across the mountains and interspersed thin waterfalls and a variety of breakfast items and tea / coffee on demand from the bungalow caretakers. We continued from where we left the previous night and soon found ourselves cruising our way back to Coimbatore after a heavy lunch. One group left early towards Mysore / Bangalore. Another Chennai / Bangalore bound group bid us goodbye and were onboard the train towards their respective destinations. My usual travel partner trundles off towards Palghat to be with his parents and I had the young company of a senior citizen, bound for Udupi the next day and younger than most of us as we settled down for a restful night with the windows sneaking in light overlooking the platform no 1 of Coimbatore Junction Railway Station.

Time To Go
Time To Go
Cheer Up
Cheer Up
Yellow Fellow
Yellow Fellow
Getting Home
Getting Home

By 8 AM the next morning, done with breakfast and other trivialities, we find ourselves waiting on PF No 1 to board the 16565 Yesvantpur – Mangalore Express. Led by a Vijawada WAG5 we were soon cruising through the beautiful landscapes on offer between Walayar & Kanjikode. We reached Palghat a few minutes ahead of schedule, where my regular travel partner, PK was waiting with homemade food for our return to Bangalore by 12678, Ernakulam – Bangalore Intercity Express. We bid goodbye to PKV, the young senior and a delayed 12678 ensured we had a good time roaming around the station soaking in nothing but the typical railway station vibes from one of the cleanest railway stations of India. 2 days of enduring unusual physical activity, quite uncommon for majority of the working IT population in the current world meant that our body wanted a bit more of rest to compensate and match our primarily sedentary lifestyle and being used to unnecessary luxuries of life, we wanted to upgrade our second sitting ticket to AC Chair car. One look at the incoming train and it was clear as day. No room in AC. The second sitting was cramped and the coach was occupied like a typical Rohit Sharma career. Bits of brilliance with extended patches of mediocrity. The area we were seated was cramped and I was right between two giants. A few seats ahead it was wide open spaces. By the time we reached Erode Junction, the crowd had eased considerably and the journey turned out to delightful. On hindsight it was good that the AC coaches were full. Nothing can beat the fresh wind, rhythmic wheels of motion, the typical clickety clack of wheels moving over rails and the feel of being out in the open of a second class of an Indian Railways travel experience.

Enter Madukkarai
Enter Madukkarai
Ernakulam Twins
Ernakulam Twins

We soon depart Salem and enter the single line diesel section towards Bangalore via Hosur. This section is an unexplored paradise for the rail enthusiasts. It boasts of a small ghat section too, but not quite like the towering mountains connected by large viaducts or piercing through the mountains in long tunnels. We have to climb close to a kilometer above the sea level from the ground over a distance of 200 kilometers. The train passes through sunflower fields, mustard fileds, small hills and innumerable sharp curves and bends. Muthampatti and Rayakottai are one of the many beautiful areas this route covers, the former known for its Hanuman temple and innumerable monkeys and the latter for a very famous horse shoe curve. This is a section unexplored and is in the list of to do things in future and best enjoyed during the monsoons.

Enter Salem
Enter Salem

Street food, Junk food and following the same train of thought, railway pantry food especially when you can feel & smell the fresh fried items in stale and expired oil is ironically enticing and we succumbed. We indulged in a wide range of junk unhygienic food only to find myself in the washroom every five minutes cleaning out my gut and stomach. My friend and travel companion PK was able to pride himself of his superior resistance for for about 10 minutes longer until he decided to join the fun. A typical case of food poisoning and thankfully mild enough to leave us with enough strength and energy to complete the last leg of what would be a memory etched forever. We crossed Hosur and held up Karmelaram for a while to let the Bangalore Dharmapuri DEMU to cross. A simple 10 minute delay now escalated to almost an hour as were held up prior to descending the Byappanahalli ramp and join the Chennai Bangalore mainline. It was then that I realised that the one that would have been affected the most in this fiasco would have been the Mysore – Mayiladuturai express who would still be waiting for us to clear the line and it was no surprise to find it waiting at Byapanahalli with headlights off waiting. An absolutely bored and resigned loco pilot waving us the green signal as we chugged past accelerating and clearing his line towards Bangalore Cantontment, where we were deposited around 8:20, a good hour late from our scheduled arrival. Thankfully for us Island Express bound to Kanyakumari, the one I started this trip with was just entering Bangalore Cantonment. A brisk sprint, we were onboard the Island and the breathing returns to normal a few minutes later as we disembark at KJM, Krishnarajapuram. We bid goodbyes, ready to do it all over again next year and a half hour later, I was there ringing the doorbell, back to reality, back to the chaos this world has to offer, back to the concrete jungle from the real one, fresh, charged and rejuvenated, ready to take on the challenges until I run out of charge, however I am rechargeable and until then, back to the grind.

The Final Frontier
The Final Frontier
The Window Seat
The Window Seat
Chugging Up
Chugging Up
One Last Curve
One Last Curve

I hope I was able to take my readers along virtually on this quickie litte recharging trip across the Nilgiris. Do let me know your feedback and comments. Until the next one….

Meanwhile, a video & photo compilation of the memorable trip

Flickr Link For Trip Photos : https://www.flickr.com/photos/ponds186/albums/72157676295739252

Conquering The Blues – II

Prologue : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/02/23/mentally-prepared/
Part I : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/03/03/conquering-the-blues-i/

Chug We Go
Chug We Go

We departed Mettupalayam a few minutes behind the scheduled time of the passenger. The breakdown special was loaded with tools, generator and almost the entire manpower of the mountain railway. The Chief Engineer was quite confident of getting his work completed the same day and was hopeful of resuming the services by Sunday, 18th December 2016. The short ride from Mettupalayam to Kallar was uneventful and our group was busy distributing fluids, energy replenishment, cookies, chocolates and another miscellaneous set of food items ensuring everyone is self sufficient to carry on with the trek. Passengers or not, the train has to stop at every watering station to replenish and cool down the thirsty monster, X Class Oil powered locomotives.

Alignment Break
Alignment Break

As we reached Kallar, memories of the previous trek took us back a year ago when this very same station was covered in mist and heavy rainfall. This year it was a distinctly different atmosphere. Cool, bright and sunny interspersed with thick blue clouds against a beautiful cerulean blue sky. Any which way you see, Kallar represented peace and serenity. The pin drop silence was only disturbed by the original twitterati, a flow of water somewhere in the vicinity and the roaring growl of our thirsty & whistling X Class locomotive.

Mandatory Checks
Mandatory Checks

Once we depart, this would be a perfect place to spend some quality time with your inner self far away from pollution, industrialization, selfishness, greed, competition. We evolved to live with nature amidst every living creature and find a balance. As our brains developed, we lost the design we were built for. We stopped seeing the beauty and simplicity around us. We were mentally conditioned that power and money are the two things to live for. We challenged the Darwin’s theory. Survival of the fittest gave way to thriving of the meanest. In just a couple of hundred years, we destroyed our planet. We destroyed every living organism and animal. We made them play to our tunes. We thought we knew everything. In our pursuit of materialistic pleasure, we get rid of everything in our way, be it our own species. Amidst all this, when you spend a little time in a hamlet like Kallar, you really start to see how our life was intended to be only to rue the fact on how it turned out to be. Maybe one day we will realize the enormity of our mindless actions, but that will be the day when our Mother Earth decides to press Ctrl+Alt+Del.

One Of Many
One Of Many
Welcome to NMR
Welcome to NMR

The cog & teeth gets aligned at Kallar and the engagement needs to be inspected at every water filling station usually spread apart by around 4-5 km. After aligning, we chugged along towards Hillgrove with an intermediate halt at Adderley for inspection and water filling. I have to say, it was pretty nostalgic traversing the same section which we had trekked along the previous year. I could relate to every milestone, every landscape, every tunnel, every viaduct, every bridge and every single stream of water. The feeling of been there, done that. Cruising along the first major viaduct with gushing waters below brought in an involuntary sense of euphoria and a smile that can not be described. The viaduct which took us close to 6 minutes of careful trek the previous year was done and dusted in less than half a minute. The surroundings this time around weren’t as green and fresh as it was the previous year, but still refreshing and liberating. The highlight of this section was a huge black snake going back into hiding possibly scared to wits with the vibrations. The immediate fear and skepticism in everyone’s eyes were masked by faked expressions of absolute indifference. Folks, it is OK to be scared and we should be. Fear is an important factor that keep our senses sharp and let us handle the situation. Soon enough we reach Adderley and continue onto Hillgrove after a 10 minute break. We pass through that small temple where we had lunch the previous year. That nasty little slippery bridge where we had to let one of our group exit due to severe cramps. That protective rock like structure from where we were forced to return to the bridge due to an elephant encounter and that long distance view of Hillgrove station board which never seemed to come closer the previous year. Ten minutes after ten in the morning. We are now where we quit last year and all set to continue to conquer the rest of the Blue Mountains.

Oh Is That You
Oh Is That You
What's So Funny
What’s So Funny
Adderley Break
Adderley Break

It was another ten minute break for the workers, while we were getting ready for the next 10 km of trekking the steep gradient. The landslide was supposedly less than a km ahead towards Coonoor which we would be crossing shortly. Hillgrove is famous for monkeys and “Dal Vada”. The stall vendor who guided us down from here a year ago treated us to hot, crispy and perfectly balanced dal vada and steaming hot tea to liven up our senses for the arduous task ahead.Ten minutes later as the breakdown special pushed on towards the landslide area, we collected our baggage and got our miniature versions with the station name board captured into the silicon valleys of my 64GB UHS1 Class 10 Memory card. Fully refreshed and excited, it is time to complete what was left incomplete. Should I say, intuition or premonition or deja vu, I felt that the breakdown special is gonna block our way right in the middle of some bridge or viaduct. A passing thought soon lost as we blended in with nature all around us. We bid goodbyes to the station staff and the innumerable monkeys and started hiking up the 1 in 12.5 gradient.

The Full Composition
The Full Composition
Dangerous Curves
Dangerous Curves
Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains
A Customary Click
A Customary Click

In the last 3-4 years, I have been attending a lot of workshops & meetings with clients, a few of them stretching almost up to a week. The typical discussion patterns always turn out to be something similar to MS Dhoni’s innings. The first 1% of the agenda items consume about 99% of the time and the remaining 99% of the agenda is completed in 1% of the time. Our hike was no different to this. Add to it the fact that Hillgrove – Runnymede section of the NMR provides the best visual treats, it was no wonder that the first 1 km of the trek took us close to an hour. We encountered about three waterfalls , a couple of tunnels and 3 small bridges before we could sight our breakdown special berthed and off to some real heavy duty work.

The Gang Again
The Gang Again
Single File Please
Single File Please

As we neared the BDS, my weird intuition was proven right. The Loco was right there parked in the middle of a narrow bridge smoking and puffing. Our hike came to a complete screeching halt. I am not sure if I could transport any of you to the scene with my writing ability, but allow me to experiment. The Loco is covering the entire length of this small bridge. There are no hand holders / any space available on either side of the loco for us to move ahead. To the left is a plain straight drop of at least 200 feet. On the right is a drop of about 8-10 feet which would place us in a landing at the base of a wayside waterfall. A few rocks right under the bridge. There is no way down on the left and the only way is to hand crawl down to the landing on the right, get drenched, use the rocks under the bridge as support not to fall off the steep cliff and carefully trundle along the 30-40 feet length of the bridge to reach the other side balancing our bags and equipment against slippery rocks. Well.. we did it all right. All of us. Came back up on the other side fully drenched and refreshed by an ice cold natural waterfall. If I were let to sum up the experience of NMR, this one adventure would suffice. Ten of us and half an hour is what it took for us to move on. A few meters ahead, we encountered the landslide which brought the NMR to a complete standstill. It took us just a few moments to realize the quantum of labor and manpower required to clear a small landslide. The unforgiving terrain and limited access path and lack of space to dump the debris demands the highest of resources from even the fittest of the workers. These workers need to be truly appreciated and thanked for the efforts they put in to get the NMR back on track for tourists like us to enjoy the beautiful visages NMR has to offer. After thanking them, we moved on.

Work In Progress
Work In Progress
Another S
Another S

The trek up to Runnymede station was uneventful and quick. This 4 km stretch took us exactly an hour from the landslide location. A short 2 minute refreshment & hydration break every kilometer kept the momentum going. Some of the best visuals in this hike were reserved for this section. The view of the valleys, falls, mountains and the long winding Mettupalayam – Ooty highway presented some breathtaking visuals where a description would provide no justice to the reality on display. Right alongside Runnymede station is the famous Katteri Park, a well maintained tourist spot. We were supposed to get our lunches delivered by our drivers at Runnymede station, but the traffic and roadworks en route ensured that they had not even started the climb towards Coonoor. Half hour later, post energizing and hydrating ourselves, we continued on only to be presented with the 1 in 12 gradient again. Plastic bottles, covers, sewage / waste mixed with streams and falls, gave us a clear indication that so called civilization is around. It was clear to us not to depend on any natural water source beyond Runnymede.

Moving On
Moving On
Halfway
Halfway
Refill Time
Refill Time
Katteri Park
Katteri Park

Oh You Humans !!!
Oh You Humans !!!

Considering our previous encounter with a hungry wild elephant, we had all our senses tuned to sense any danger. However as the elevation increased and more civilization around, the chances of encountering any more elephants were going down as we kept going up, but a repetitive pattern of prints on the left side of the tracks kept us interested and on the edge. Just as we were exiting out of another tunnel, the local population urged us to be quiet and move to the other side of the tracks only to witness a full grown adult male Indian Gaur casually lazing around chewing gum. A beautiful sight well enjoyed from a safe distance. Unlike the previous trek which was in the middle of a devastating cyclone on the east coast, this one was relatively dry and slightly more tiring, but we had the experience of the previous trek and mentally prepared for the task which we had so underestimated the last time and quickly completed the remaining 5 km to Coonoor in 2hrs. Coonoor presented us with relief, clean water, a beautiful YDM4 GOC Alco and excited tourists waiting to be hauled up to Ooty as the Coonoor – Ooty section of NMR was operational. We had to wait for another 30 minutes for our food & transport to arrive. An hour later, with a half full stomach, tired aching legs and body, I find myself under a hot shower at the secluded Glendale Tea Estate, Adderley, getting ready to fill up the remaining half.

The Last Bridge
The Last Bridge

Personally, If I were to compare the previous trek with this one, this one was certainly better planned, well executed and completed with lesser assistance from others, but the charm and beauty of the trek last year is beyond comparison. If there was one negative factor in this trek, that would be the “civilization” which has a total disregard for nature and the environment. Nature thrives where humans do not exist. Period.

Half The Fun
Half The Fun

Conquering The Blues – I

Read the prologue HERE.

All Clear
All Clear

16-Dec-2016 :

Water Colors
Water Colors

When you cook your dish longer than it is supposed to, you lose its texture, flavor & the real essence which you try to get, which is exactly what started happening. With almost a year of planning behind us, the entire trip is now in jeopardy, courtesy cyclone Vardah. A few more drop outs at the last moment and now the final figure stands at 10. As always, I reach my boarding station, Whitefield well ahead of time to indulge myself in trainspotting and feeling the typical vibes of an Indian Railway Station. I had a full 2 hours to kill and warmed up for the next day’s trek with long walks on the platforms spotting and capturing trains at extreme angles. Just a few days after Cyclone Vardah had its impact on Bangalore, the entire atmosphere had a surreal calmness associated with it, only shattered by the whines & screams of Chennai – Bangalore Intercity, Tirupati – Mysore Intercity & the Chennai – Vasco Expresses. Chennai – Bangalore intercity was led by a typical whining Royapuram kiddie WAP-7 while the other two were led by macho & muscular WAP-4s.

Lets Gets Started
Lets Gets Started
DG4 Framed
DG4 Framed
While I Wait ...
While I Wait …

I am well balanced, socially sensitive, always in tune with current affairs who fights for women liberation & rights and every other social cause. I fight against child labor, child prostitution, revolt against corrupt politicians, take the fight back to the authorities be it pantry car overcharging or a speed bump missing on the road. I voice my balanced opinion and fight for justice at every opportunity. I fight for the betterment of the society. I change my social media DP to support various causes. In fact all terrorist activities have stopped all around the world ever since I started changing my DP. Too bad no one does this for attacks in India which has the potential to stop any further attacks. I am a typical social media darling doing all the right things to project to the world on how the world needs more responsible and genuine citizens like me. The levelheadedness, patience, understanding, maturity & a few more good adjectives you can think of, with which I handle issues in my virtual social world is beyond unreal. In the real world, I am just a normal ass who doesn’t give a damn to anything unless it really affects me personally & the real me is now real pissed.

I was supposed to take the 16526 Island Express from Bangalore to Salem and board the Nilgiri Express (The official connecting train to the Nilgiris), locally called as “Blue”, to Mettupalayam. Two of the team were supposed to enjoy my esteemed company up to Mettupalayam. With a few moments left for my train to arrive, the group gets a Whatsapp message indicating that one of them (PKV) had missed the train by a whisker. A few frantic calls went unanswered and I am now convinced that this is supposedly a game. Minutes later, PK informs me that he would now not be able to make his train at Banaswadi due to heavy traffic and planning to give this trip a miss. Since he was anyway looking for just any inconsequential excuse to miss this trip, I was pretty convinced that this is the end of the trip. However, I had to think about the immense pressure and bureaucracy the organizing team had to undergo to get this planned and abruptly disrupting this plan did not seem to be a fair thing to do. Added to that, it had been a while since I had met the rest of the group and wanted to meet them anyway. My current state of mind : I don’t give a damn anymore. I am genuinely pissed. Called up Dr Nazeer, one of the organizers that I would be there at Mettupalayam on time. Sent a message to the group that I am going back home and stopped answering any calls. As the Erode P4 glided into the platform, I boarded my coach to see PKV with a half worried look wondering if I had really gone home. Oh, come on folks. I can play this game too. Now, I am at peace. I have accepted the reality. I can only control what I can do, which is, I am doing this trip.

The Yesvantpur Howrah express trailed us all the way until we took a right towards Salem and the former took a left towards Jolarpet. Unlike the last time we were not on a rampage. We were cruising steadily at a sedate 90-95 kmph until we reached Tiruppatur right on dot. With great optimism, I was now looking out of my window for the mainline signal turning green and have the legendary Trivandrum mail overtake us again. However for some reason, which I would know once we reach Salem, we got a line clear and moved ahead. With this only action missing, we retired for a short midnight power nap and woke up as we were pulling into Salem. Stepped out of the station for some light snacks and tea. Meanwhile, I get to know that PK had managed to board his train and on his way to Salem. Having attained nirvana by now, I just waited for my “Blue” and drifted into dreamland humming Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be, before the Blue could pull out of the station.

17-Dec-2016 :

It Doesn't Matter
It Doesn’t Matter
Red Leads Blue
Red Leads Blue
While You Wait
While You Wait

Mettupalayam has always been a quaint laid back station since ages, the only excitement being decking up the Nilgiri Queen for its daily ride up the hills. This Saturday, 17th of December, 2016 was a disappointment to all the “OOTY RIDE” aspirants. Nature had played spoilsport and a landslide just beyond Hillgrove had suspended services for the previous 3 days and possibly for the next couple of days as well. Folks like us who were aware of the situation had alternate plans in place, but the rest who were unaware of the situation had disappointment evidently written on their face along with a temporary phase of being absolutely clueless. The MG platform which usually had the little toy train charged up for the ride is now ready with equipment and tools and all set to to climb up to accident spot for clearing the landslide.

Face To Face
Face To Face
The History
The History
Time For Geography
Time For Geography
Rest Week
Rest Week

It was actually good to see finally that all the 10 have actually made it up to Mettupalayam and ready for the adventure. Two of our organizers were on their way and should be with us within the next half hour. To recollect, exactly a year ago, we had trekked the 10kms uphill from Kallar to Hillgrove. The target this year was to cover the remaining part upto Coonoor by foot. Since the landslide was just ahead of our proposed starting point this year, we had 2 options. The first one was to trek down from Coonoor to Hillgrove. Get down to the road from Hillgrove along the same path we had done last year and proceed by road to our resort. The second option was to climb up to Hillgrove from the same point we had got down in December 2015 and continue on trekking upto Coonoor. I was in favor of the second option inspite of the extra effort that would be required. It is my strong opinion that climbing up may be a bit more exhausting but much safer and easier to control than a downhill trek. While this discussion and arguments were running back and forth, a few of us had a quick breakfast at the station, while a few others decided to try their luck to see if the breakdown special could take us upto Hillgrove. We had verbal permissions from the railway authorities about our trek. We had informed the station masters of NMR about this. A few of the workers know most of us from the trek last year. With all this background and attaching a significant weight on the permissions obtained for the trek, we once again contacted officials stating our predicament and after a long winding discussion and negotiation on no of passengers, we were allowed to board the breakdown special upto Hillgrove or upto the landslide area. It was a record of sorts. It took just 2 minutes to get the entire team transfer their required accessories, gobble up their breakfasts, dump their remaining luggage in the car, assemble quickly and board the BDS, which is ready and waiting just for us to get on. A simple call and a one liner did the trick. “You have 2 minutes to board the BDS upto Hillgrove, failing which we shall meet you at the resort in the evening”. PKV, though young at heart, was rightly refrained from doing this strenuous trek and decided to proceed towards the resort in one of the 2 cars which would meet us at Coonoor railway station later in the day. Man proposes and God disposes. Sometimes everything happens for a reason. With this thought and jealous looks from confused passengers, our queen whistled and started pushing us towards Hillgrove.

Lucky Break
Lucky Break
Bomb Scare
Bomb Scare
Fresh Morning
Fresh Morning

To be continued …

Mentally Prepared

Prologue :

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 battleA 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 : 

https://pixeltrailz.com/2016/07/22/son-there-isnt-enough-time-i/

https://pixeltrailz.com/2016/07/25/son-there-isnt-enough-time-ii/

https://wordpress.com/post/pixeltrailz.com/2329

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.

A Short Hike In Nilgiris

Dec 2015 – A bunch of us went on an exciting hiking session in the Nilgiris. We hiked along the tracks from Kallar to Hillgrove. This is just a short Glimpse into the exciting journey.

Blog Links :

1. Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – I

2.Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – II

3.Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – III

Flickr Links : NMR Story in Pictures

Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – III

Road At Last
Road At Last
Yours Truly
Yours Truly

It had taken us 3 hrs to hike the 5 km to Adderley. The killer gradient laughing all its way behind us. We took our time, freshened up, hydrated ourselves with loads of stream water, which has been channelized to flow into pipelines with small water pits all along the tracks. It made sense to drop of all our water bottles and a bit of carrying load as fresh water was in abundance in the Nilgiris. After a quick & generous intake of fresh fruits and vegetables not sparing even the orange peels, we started off for the next 5 kilometers towards Hillgrove. The plan was to go beyond Hillgrove and jump onto the road where the tracks cross the roads more often beyond Hillgrove. It was half past noon as we moved our tired butts. The half hour break had stiffened all our muscles and took another 15 – 20 minutes of uphill trek to get warmed up and loosened.

Lunch Break
Lunch Break
Light Dispels Dark
Light Dispels Dark
Abundance
Abundance
And it goes
And it goes
Fully Reloaded
Fully Reloaded

The heavy lunch in our backpacks was slowing us down and draining our energy at an unprecedented rate and being the smartest individuals we were, we decided on a double whammy. Eat our lunch, reduce the load and fuel up your energy reserves. The NMR operates only two train on the Mettupalayam – Ooty sector. An early departure at Mettupalayam and the same passenger train back to Mettupalayam from Ooty later in the afternoon. Overestimating our superhuman abilities, we expected to meet the return passenger after our 20 km trek at Coonoor and certainly not the huge whooshy sounds from an oil fired X series steam locomotive carefully descending the gradient as we settle down for lunch. The lunch party quickly organized themselves along a small track side temple and waited patiently for the breakdown special to move past us with a few confused NMR railway staff waving at us. The gang men duo who picked up halfway towards Adderley exclaimed that this was a breakdown special which is now coming back after clearing the landslides which suspended the services a few days ago. Another half hour spent eating and cleaning up the place. Trust me when I say, the place is so pristine that leaving any mess over there will hang over your neck for the rest of your life, not that it assumes you can mess up anywhere else. Any which way, please clean up your mess.

A modern bridge
A modern bridge

Things started to get a bit spiced up now. There was a single gang man waiting for just beyond bridge no 42, around a couple of kilometers ahead of Hillgrove and about 1.5 km from where we just cleaned up after lunch. Apparently a wild elephant is on the run around bridge no 42 and is now in hiding as the BDS (breakdown special) scared it off. It should take another hour or so for it to come out and it would be a wise decision to step up our pace. Well, we were all fully perked up and with a much lighter almost non existent load on our backs, the pace stepped up literally and just as were about to cross the bridge no 42 one of us had to sit down right in the middle of the bridge to massage the leg muscles from severe cramps. The Adderley gang had informed us that just beyond bridge no 42, one can walk down a path to the road and get a lift to Coonoor. With one of us getting cramped up we spent another ten minutes discussion various scenarios and it was finally decided that a couple of us would assist him down to the road, get back and continue on with the hike. Each one of us was tired to the bone and no one wanted to let go of the remaining trek and accompany him all the way to our Glendale guest house. Hence we wait. Meanwhile, we have been handed over to the next gang man who would accompany us up to Hillgrove. He gave us the directions and the trio was off to hit the road.

Looking Back
Looking Back

While we waited for the two of them to return, we were shown the tracks and signs of the elephant which had been roaming around bridge no 42 and given some practical lessons on what to do if an elephant chases you. The cardinal rule is, never try to outrun the elephant or ever try reaching higher ground. These large creatures are deceptively quick and can climb real fast.The best option is to go down the hill as they very rarely chase anyone down the slope due to the excess weight and balance. As we were getting enlightened, the trio calls up having spotted the elephant. Our guide without a second’s hesitation asked us to run down the bridge to stay on the other side (Apparently elephants do not cross railway bridges) and wait till he gets back. After close to 30 minutes, which felt like a couple of hours, all of them were back after an adventure. They had managed to put up the member who cramped up onto a vehicle to reach the Glendale guest house and we continued on our hike.

I Bless You
I Bless You
The Last Mile
The Last Mile
Protective Rock
Protective Rock

The return passenger from Ooty normally reaches Hillgrove around 4 in the afternoon and for our guide cum escort, that is the only way out back to the plains. We had an hour left and another mile to go. Now this was a run. He was literally dragging us at a breakneck speed. We now have another 300 meters to hike. I can see the station building straight left.I could see the old abandoned building nearby. I can see the water tank, the water filling area for the steam locomotive. I can even see the station board. I just couldn’t move. When you see the destination in sight, hell freezes over. None of my muscles responded to a single command from my brain. I had to drag each and every cell within my body and this last 300 meters turned out to almost to be the most impossible part of the trek. Once I set foot on the station platform which is a couple of inches from the ground, I threw off my backpack somewhere and stood right under water tank with water gushing down and out from around a hundred feet above and after five minutes, I was dripping wet, tiredness out into oblivion, headache washed away. Two energy bars, a liter of water, 2 cups of coffee and 10 minutes later, I could not have felt any better and fresh as a daisy, ready to hike another 10 km uphill. My smart brain instantly let me know that it was insanity and adrenaline talking. Time now to wait for the Mettupalayam bound passenger.

The Clickers
The Clickers
Seeya later
Seeya later

The NMR especially between Jul – Dec is as charming as it can get. Uphill, the passenger stops at Adderley, Hillgrove & Runnymede for water, oil, cooling off and lets the passengers walk around, enjoy the breathtaking views, soak in the surroundings and unwind. Once all done, the train whistles and waits until everyone is back to continue on its journey. There is enough time built into the schedule to let passengers breathe in the pristine environment up to Coonoor. I had always wanted to get out and watch trains go rather than get into the train and watch the landscape rush past. This is almost next to impossible on the NMR. Now we are here, with no train to board and waiting for the Mettupalayam bound passenger to roll down to Hillgrove. As the hustle, bustle and whistle seeps in from the hills, a bunch us get to wait to capture the moment as the NMR beauty rolls down the bridge into Hillgrove with wide eyed passengers. Now, as the train rolls down the bridge, hills in the background and heart in my mouth, I almost freeze just to take a snapshot in time. Now, this is one feeling, I could never be able to express in words. Every single passenger inside were looking down at us, confused finding non railway folks at Hillgrove, sporting the widest grins stretching ear to ear and waving with all their heart and might. Well that WAS special.

Hillgrove
Hillgrove
Steady & Careful
Steady & Careful

That was a 30 minute halt. They wanted to know. Who are we ? Why are we there ? How did we reach there ? and everything else about our crazy hike up. The NMR passenger chugged off towards Mettupalayam at 5PM. The station staff wound up for the day, closed the tea & snacks stall and a couple of them guided our way down to the road through slippery rocks, fresh water streams and moss laden path. A careful fall and twenty minutes later, we were on the road waiting for our driver to pick us up and found ourselves dropped at the Glendale Guest house all for ourselves, except for a couple of caring cooks who took care of our culinary needs till 2 AM the next morning. After a spirited session with great food and cold beers, we called it a day around 2 in the morning only to continue from where we left off the next morning from 7 AM. The Glendale estate is a private property with beautifully manicured tea plantations where the cooks spent their entire morning and early afternoon in the kitchen taking the best care possible of their guests. The group started leaving in batches to their respective destinations starting around 4 in the afternoon. The estate manager managed an unofficial private visit to the tea factory, which unfortunately delayed our departure slightly and we managed to reach Podanur 2 minutes after our train, usually 10 minutes behind schedule at Podanur, departed towards Bangalore. After a lot of ifs and buts, I settled down with my usual travel partner near Coimbatore Junction, at a decent hotel for a day trip the next morning to Bangalore.

At Last
At Last
Just a few minutes
Just a few minutes
Fresh and Clean
Fresh and Clean

Before I wind up this blog, it needs to be said that this trek has been one of the most enlightening and delightful trips I have ever done. Trekking uphill may seem tedious, but it seemed to me at least that it is a safer alternative to going downhill especially if the terrain is slippery like it was during our trip. Nature is beautiful. Once you start appreciating its beauty, you do not need anymore campaigns on saving the earth. For one, we cannot save it. It is far more powerful than us and secondly, you will never destroy something which you love. Hope I was able to take you along with me in this trek. Do let me know with your comments and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I relived the experience writing this. I certainly DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH TIME.

The Fog descends
The Fog descends

Son, There Isn’t Enough Time – II

Spoilt By Nature
Spoilt By Nature
Kallar
Kallar

An hour before the departure of the Ooty toy train. The crowd and excitement builds up. Camera’s ranging from a simple mobile phone all the way up to the bulky DSLR’s with lenses slightly smaller than the tank’s snout is all out in the open. It’s raining and no one cares. The early morning chirping of birds are masked by shutter clicks and hissing steam.Excited passengers go shutter crazy. The TTE is checking , well what else, the tickets. A handful of folks click ridiculous photos looking into the moon with the selfie sticks, while the rest watch in amusement. A final hoot and a final call and all the passengers settle down. Ready to depart and signals set, the trademark hoot followed by a push and the little beauty chugs on towards what would be a mesmerizing 5 hour journey into natural beauty. A slight drizzle, hooting and puffing and crawling out of Mettupalayam, The X Series loco pushes a train full of passengers, who have brought out their child within and cameras as they prepare for an exciting and delightful experience on the UNESCO heritage NMR (Nilgiri Mountain Railway).

Welcome to NMR
Welcome To NMR
Can You See That
Can You See That
Ready ?
Ready ?
Check and Engage
Check and Engage

With the star of the day out of the way, its time to regroup and move on. We separated the trek requirement part of our luggage consisting of energy bars, water, medicines, food, rain protection gear, cameras and flashlights. We picked up a few items needed on the way and rushed past overcast clouds and wet roads along the foothills of Nilgiris towards Kallar railway station. Right at the foothills of the Nilgiris and the entrance to the forest ahead, Kallar, named after the river, was a quaint and serene station where the Ooty passenger has the first of its unscheduled stop for water filling and aligning the gears to catch on for the steep climb ahead. The actual climb towards Ooty starts at Kallar. We spent around half an hour at the station master’s hut and fuelled ourselves with a heavy breakfast for the steep climb ahead. The station master was kind enough to hold back two of the gang men to accompany us and delayed their daily inspection check duties for our safety and assistance. They would accompany us halfway up to Adderley and hand us over the next gang. We had no idea on why they would take such measures, but as the day progresses, it would dawn upon us.

The Gang and the Gangmen
The Gang and the Gangmen

We have all the pre-requesites of a professional photographer. The DSLR Cameras, Facebook Pages and the knowledge of how to sneak in a copyright into our images. So out comes our gear and we click all over the place and delay yet another 15 minutes little realizing the fact that the 2 gang men were actually waiting for us. Maybe it is just another day at work for them unlike us who believe that nothing is more important than our own precious time. I had trekked ghat sections earlier and when the gang men questioned us on our knowledge of tunnels, bridges and trekking along railway lines in the ghats, the significant never dawned upon us. Anyway, we saw that the section had a gradient of 1 in 12.5, which apparently is one of the steepest gradients on earth. Just to get the perspective right the Bhor & Thull ghats of Indian Railways hover around 1 in 30 to 1 in 40 range. The gradient never looked menacing and we expected the trek of close to 14 km to be difficult but not strenuous.

And it Begins
And it Begins
The First Tunnel
The First Tunnel
Inside The First Tunnel
Inside The First Tunnel
The Exit
The Exit
The First Real Viaduct
The First Real Viaduct

Five minutes is all it took for us to realize how wrong we were. The gradient was a killer. With a moderately heavy load on backs, oil greased tracks, uneven and slippery track-side access, the gravel ballast and the killer gradient let us know immediately who is in charge there. Any leftover hint of overconfidence and complacency we had was wiped off instantly and the instructions sent out to us resonated with more reason. No perfumes, no bright colored dresses, camouflage dressing if available, no strong soap odor, no unnecessary talking, no sudden movements, no loud noises and the most scary of all, we are all children of mother nature, respect mother nature and you will survive.

Tempting
Tempting
The First Real Viaduct
Thats how it is

The forest was rough and wild. The rain gods decided to take a break and showed up just every now on then to have a check on us. After a 10 minute trek, we could feel our muscles begging and lungs having a workout. Meanwhile we were slowly falling into rhythm and the trek getting steadier by the minute. The gang men had a lot of stories to keep us entertained and informed all the way up. There were continuous updates coming over the BSNL network on the track situation, elephant sightings and other dangers / precautions. We passed through a location where one of the gang men was mauled by a tusker, a memorial stone to refresh the memory and not to let our focus drift. We crossed a couple of tunnels and came face to face with a long curved bridge and a thunderous sound of gushing waters below us.

The First Real Viaduct
Perk up your spirits

The bridge came out as open and wild as it could be. No supports / walkways on either side except for longer wooden sleepers. High winds, gushing waters and nothing but openness around us, it was not a time to look down through the wide gaps between the wooden sleepers. With extreme focus and dedication, trying to keep the fear of heights at bay, we crossed the first of the many bridges and viaducts careful not to slip over the oil stained sleepers. As we reached the end of the first long bridge, there were 2 gang men ready to take over the reins from those who accompanied us until then. After a 2.5 km trek which took close to an hour and a half of which 5 minutes were spent on crossing that 100 meter bridge, we bid them goodbye with lots of gratitude and respect. A few monkeys kept wandering around us taking in the mystery of seeing a bunch of amateurs doing an impossible uphill trek in the Nilgiris. We took a 15 minute break right after the bridge, hydrated and re-energized ourselves and started off our next 2.5 km trek to Adderley. The short trek so far had already drained us out and the rest of the journey already seems like an uphill task, no pun intended.

Destination Adderley
Destination Adderley

Small talk, more interesting chat with the gang men and their daily routines, focused climb, cool weather, lack of rains, heavy breathing, tunnels, viaducts and bridges, monkeys , cane assisted climbs, an experience of a 2.5km trek behind us and an hour later we found ourselves right under the water filling area of Adderley. Adderley, by no means can be called a station by any stretch of imagination. The station consists of a gang man hut on the left with wide open views of nothingness on the left and thick dense forests on the right. The gang man hut has an inverted U shaped entrance, courtesy of a mad elephant trying to make its way through while the employees took refugee and prayed to almighty. We had a half hour break and some rest at the hut listening to the experiences of the railway men and the difficulties they face in keeping the NMR operation running. The amount of work these hardworking railway men get done in harrowing and difficult weather conditions combined with threat of wild elephants and other animals is no trivial proposition. Add to that the salary and facilities they receive makes it a complete raw deal for them. The chief gang man over there has already spent close to 30 years at Adderley and expects his retirement in the next few years or so. We as passengers enjoy the beauty and charm of our rail networks little sparing a thought for these men. A big salute to their dedication and hard work ensuring the safety of millions of passengers across the country.

Look Ahead
Look Ahead