19 January 2006

Retrospective Series: Part 8: The Trekkie

Its winter, so the hikes are down to a bare minimum. In spring, summer and fall, we make it a point to hike more frequently. The woods in this part of the country are amazing for trekkies. Although devoid of exotic creatures that might scare say someone trekking in the amazon jungles, they do make up for that with enough bugs that seem to have a particular penchant for my blood. No amount of deet seems to make any difference, while my wife hikes along, blissfully untouched by the nasty bugs. I console myself thinking, it must be the sweetness of my blood.. ahem.

This trek fever is nothing new. I remember the time when devoid of the internet, summer holidays were filled with loads of free time and nothing much to do. One such day in the summer of 88 found me hatching a plan for a biking trek with my buddies from school. Actually both of them were juniors of mine in school, but they usually ended up hanging out at my place (supposedly to study) in the evenings. The destination planned was a shrub and eucalyptus grove that doubled as a wild life sanctuary on the outskirts of town. In fact it was a conserved wild life sanctuary that was home to two rare species, the 'Black Buck' and the 'Great Indian Bustard'.

Fuelled by the dream of emulating heroes from child hood novels like the Hardy boys or one of the characters in Enid Blyton's novels 'The Famous Five' or 'The Secret Seven', we were three dudes on rickety bikes(The pedalled variety) with a mission. In very Don Quixotic style, our mission was to spot the rare black buck or even rarer bustard on a day trip that would take us deep into the forest and back.

Our moms packed us a picnic spread, the contents of which I forget. We biked some 5 km before we reached the outskirts of the forest. It was dry, featureless, dusty and completely devoid of any signs of life. The little spots of asphalt that existed underneath us till then quickly disappeared as we went deeper into the forest. We struggled to pedal on the gravel as it wreaked havoc on the flimsy tires. Remember this was not the fancy 'All Terrain Bike' that is so common these days. It was a bike from the days when the concept of gears was unheard of(At least in the town that I grew up in). While pedalling up an incline, one is going at it alone, with no help from the gears.

After maybe half an hour or so of biking we decided to leave the wide road and enter the forest at a trail head. How we decided to do that is quite scary, now that I think about it. We had no map whatsoever of the forest, and none of us had been there before, so the first trail head we saw prompted us to make a quick choice. And for those of you who have hiked in US forests, a trail head might sound very appealing. This was no such trail head. It had no markings, no indicators. The only reason we discovered that it was a trail head was because of the slight depression in the ground from all the foot falls.

A form of shrub called the 'Lantana' is a common feature in the deccan plateau. The thorns are long pointed needles that can cut a toe or finger and probably even sever it. The reason I mention it is because the trails are usually littered with fallen thorns like these. In most cases much of the path is fenced on both sides with this wild shrub. The last thing you want is to be biking straight into such a welcoming arm. But that is exactly what we did, as we biked along the trail's curved and meandering route, practically oblivious to the danger.

Hardly five minutes down the path and we heard a loud 'splat' and a hiss. It was our friend 'Lantana' piercing through my friend's bike tires. So after a few helpless glances at each other, our biking expedition turned into a bike pushing expedition.

An hour or so deep into the forest, we found a clearing to have our first break, spread out our munchables and tried to admire the dusty beauty or lack thereof of the surrouding thickets. The eucalyptus trees added a medicinal fragrance to the surrounding air, especially during the flowering season. Other than the patchy shade from these trees and the occasional twirp from an unknown bird, we were in absolute wilderness country. As dry as Sub Saharan Africa. Our hopes of seeing deer, and the bustard were already on the wane.

Dragging ourselves and the bikes from the spot, we went on deeper, came up to a fork in the trail, not knowing which one to take, just randomly picked one and went trotting along. Another hour, a couple of bottles of water later, we were still aimlessly wandering around with no animals or anything green in sight. Very soon the trail seemed to breakup into many forks and then merge and then break up again. After a while we had no clue about how we would trace our way back. We did not have bread crumbs either to leave a track, like Hansel and Gretel.

We soon came upon an artificial watering hole meant for the animals. It was bone dry with cracks in its clay bed. We had our lunch and soon started again on our trail, not wanting to think about retracing our path back. We even talked about the worst case scenarios if we could'nt get back to town before sun down. Would they send a search party ? Would we be able to survive on the rations we had ? The thrill of being lost and the dangers of it was hitting us at the same time. We didn't know if we had to be excited or panic about it.

Shoe laces undone, dust covered, we soon came upon a hillock and decided to climb atop to get a better view of the surroundings. What we saw was probably one of the best sights of the day. The hillock sloped down and opened out into vast farm land. And out there beyond the fields we saw a narrow asphalted road and beyond that a hamlet with smoke stacks sticking out. We had no idea what the village was called nor if we had walked into another dimension of space. We were just overjoyed to have found fellow humanity.

When we reached the hamlet we asked around and realized that it was a cobbler's village on the outskirts of our town, on the same road that we had taken just that morning. In fact, all the while we thought we were "lost" in the forest, we were just walking back towards town, except that it was through the forest trail instead of the road. We got our flat tire repaired and rode back home, feeling elated that we had averted a major disaster. The fact that we did not even see a sparrow, made no difference to us. The fact of the matter was we had come out of an adventure however trivial it might sound now. At that point, we were pretty embarrased to talk about it amongst ourselves. The topic was never mentioned among friends and no one heard us rattling out the adventure the way I am blogging about it now. But in retrospect, I realized that we tend to associate more value to the destination than the journey. Maybe this was another of life's lesson, to tell us we should'nt.

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