“This is group picture number 71?”

Long weekend. Ugadi done and dusted. Nothing left to do. Clearly, we all needed a getaway. The planning began. One day or two days? Overnight stay? Mode of transport? How many are in? Where do we go? After going through an extensive list of potential trip destinations, we zeroed in on Kunti Betta in Pandavpura. According to reviews, it was a great place for night trek and a very safe one at that. None of the guys were able to make it so we decided to go ahead with whoever was ready. Thus formed our gang of ten girls. We met at Majestic Railway Station around 5:30pm on Saturday. Divya, Poojitha, Vichitra, Yashaswini, Supriya had turned up well in advance. Shirley had purchased the tickets by the time I reached the platform. Gaja, Rosh and Guna came about fifteen minutes before the train departure. We were busy devising strategies to get into the train and grab seats. Since we were even-numbered, we thought of splitting into teams of five and entering the compartment from two different entry points. Not once did it occur to us that the train we were looking at might be ours. Shirl went to the station master to ask when the train would arrive and he confirmed our fears. For half an hour the train had stood right in front of us and not one person realized it was ours. After this epiphany we rushed into the bogie and sat on whichever seats we could find. Since we found ourselves scattered Gaja and I went over to the following compartments to check for free seats. We finally arrived at the reservation section, caught enough place for all ten of us and soon the rest of the gang joined us. An elderly man warned us about the fine we will have to pay if the Ticket Checker (TC) caught us sitting in the reservation section. Although we were alarmed at first, we managed to keep our cool. Our plan was to pretend that we didn’t know about the reservation as it is our first journey by train. Seems legit, eh? Wait until I tell you what happened next. The train set off at 6:15PM. We were to get down at Pandavpura station. That was all we knew. Trust me. No idea how to get to Kunti Betta from there. No accommodation. No arrangements for food. We didn’t even know which side of the train the platform was located. Some snacks and GPS (if we lost network connectivity, we’d be lost forever) was all we had. Gaja was our cashier. She took Rs. 300 from all of us so she could manage all expenses hassle-free. The journey began, our usual Antakshari kept us entertained until that one dreaded moment when the TC entered our compartment. Gaja and I exchanged looks. On seeing the TC most people vacated their seats and stood near the exit. Guna remarked that we could try and bribe him with Maddur Vade. I stifled a laugh. To our relief, he stopped checking just one bench short of Gaja’s seat and went away. PHEW!! Talk about a close shave.

As we got talking, I discovered that not all of us had told our parents the truth about this trip. Divya had lied that we were going sightseeing in Mysore. Pooji had told her dad that we were going to her friend’s farmhouse which has a cook(!) so there was no need to worry about the stay and food. I had told mom only about watching the sunrise, with no mention of the “night” part of the trek. I didn’t want to risk her disowning me.

Since we were a noisy lot, the whole bogie had got to know that we were headed to Pandavpura. They alerted us to get down when we reached our stop. It was 8:15PM when we reached Pandavpura Railway Station. The town was devoid of people spare a few waiting at the bus stand. After enquiring about the bus timings, we unanimously decided to book a hotel to stay. No way we were starting a trek in the middle of the night! It was pitch black already. Besides, we needed to eat and rest (take a leak too). We met an uncle at the bus stop who was ready to help us. We were attracting quite a lot of curious stares so we lied saying that we had come on a college trip and had to trek a hill for survey purposes. He kind of bought it (I’m still not sure, as he asked why we weren’t accompanied by a teacher) and went on to suggest places for us to stay the night. He called up his contacts, spoke to a few lodge owners and gave us their numbers so we could get in touch with them. He got into the bus with us, led us till Pandavpura town where we got down, and he went on with his journey. Thanks to him we reached the town safe and sound. Then the hunt for lodges began. Here we were, a bunch of ten girls with backpacks and no solid plan, standing in the middle of a deserted bus stand wondering where to go next. We started walking towards the well-lit areas. There was a bakery ahead, so we sent two of our girls to enquire about the lodges that the bus stand uncle had told us about. To our relief, it was just a couple of minutes away from the bakery. We stopped at a roadside biryani stall to enquire again, the uncle there told us that there was a lodge nearby, we could eat there plus it was close to the base of Kunti Betta. Felt like we’d hit the accommodation jackpot. We were still wary of the localites, so we followed our usual protocol of sending two people first. Guna and Pooji went to the said lodge while the rest of us waited outside. They called us to inform that the rooms were pretty good, after negotiation the price of the stay came up to Rs. 1000 for two rooms. There were two ladies who whipped up some amazing Ghee rice and raita and we polished off our plates in the wink of an eye. Just when I was wondering how come mom wasn’t bombarding me with calls, I received a call from her (telepathy?). Assuring her I reached in one piece (lest she spend a sleepless night worrying about me), I hung up. By the time we headed to our rooms it was half past nine. Shirley, Gaja, Rosh, Guna and I took one room and the remaining girls took the other one. We were all drenched in sweat. Gaja chose to sleep on the floor. There were two cots so we four slept breadthwise. After a while it got so hot that I slept on the floor next to Gaja, soon Guna followed suit. Every time when Shirley woke up, she found one person less on the bed. Before dozing off, we’d decided to wake up at 2:30AM and leave for the trek before four. The original agenda was to wake up at 4AM (no way we could reach the summit in time for the sunrise!) and leave by 5ish. I honestly don’t know how long we slept for (or if we slept at all) because the alarm went off in no time. Without further ado we woke up our roommates and we were all set by 3:30AM. We checked out of the hotel around 3:45AM. We were officially on our own now. The lodge owner had instructed us to walk straight ahead and take a left when we came across an arch. We split into pairs so as to be responsible for each other. It was dark outside, yet we walked on bravely, with Shirley’s flashlight lighting the path for us. The street dogs barking madly caught us off guard. I had to summon up all the courage I had to stop myself from screaming my lungs out. I’m the kind of person that would freak out at the mere thought of looking out the window at 4AM, but here I was, leading a gang of nine other girls on a night trek. We reached the base of the hill by 4:50AM. There was a bunch of guys yet to start trekking too. Both the groups started the ascent at the same time. There were steps at the foot of the hill, but after a few steps we came across a fork. The right side didn’t seem to have a trail, so we took a left turn and started walking. We encountered barbed wires almost every twenty feet. It seemed highly fishy. Maybe this was a restricted area? Could it be dangerous and off limits? After a while we looked back to see the hillock behind us. Were we walking away from the hill? As the questions kept haunting us, the guys took the lead and sent three of them ahead to check for a trail. We were cursing ourselves for getting our rather heavy backpacks. The guys were smart in that they were carrying head torches whereas we were holding flashlights in one hand and using our free hand for grip. Twenty minutes into the trek, the barbed wires stopped showing up. It finally looked like we were climbing atop a hill as there was an upward slope. Gaja kept a lookout for croc-face rock (rock in the shape of a crocodile face) all the while. Hats off to Rosh for making it to the peak with her flip flops. They had slipped down on more than one occasion, mind you. We reached the summit at six. There was fog all around. It was still dark, the sun was just beginning to make its appearance. We stayed there for some time, basking in the peace and quiet. Sinful indulgence. We ate some fruits and clicked pictures. We spotted a couple of shadows on a hill opposite to ours. That’s when realization dawned on us. We had climbed the WRONG hill!

The sun was yet to rise fully, we didn’t want to miss the sight. The other hill seemed not so far off. So the guys again took the lead and we made our way towards (the original) Kunti Betta. This one had much steeper rocks. That’s the thing I like about treks. The only way to move is forwards. No looking back, no giving up. We made it to the top around 7AM. The sun was already up. We encountered some more trekkers on the way to the top. They had missed the sunrise too. We reached the summit and rested there for about an hour or so. We could catch a glimpse of the town we’d left behind. Thonnur lake could be seen in the distance. The view was serene. Just us and nature. It was totally worth it. We clicked loads of pictures (the title of this blog post was the reaction we got from the guys).

We started the downhill trek around 8AM. The descent was quite scary. Nothing to hold on to, we had to carefully slide down the rocks. One slip and poof! Fortunately the guys were there to help us. We didn’t need the flashlights anymore, so we had a nice hands-free descent. We thanked the guys profusely and parted ways. I’m sure we wouldn’t have trekked half as much had it not been for those wonderful humans. Gaja remarked how beautiful it is to meet people who help you even when they have nothing to gain. There was so much truth in what she said.

We were dead tired by the time we reached the arch. None of us had any stamina left to walk back. Again, we didn’t have a plan. Should we take a bus to the railway station and head back home? Or have breakfast at the lodge and catch a bus to Mandya? We were too exhausted to even think. So we sat down at the bus stop, waiting for a bus. We had run out of water. An old man, whose house was close to the bus stop where we were seated, offered us some water. The bus arrived. The board read Mysore-Mandya. We asked the conductor to give us tickets to Mandya. All the passengers were looking at us like we were out of our minds. The conductor told us that the bus was returning from Mandya. Dejected, we headed back to our lodge. The two aunties were more than welcoming. They got us idli and chutney. We were ravenous, so our plates were sparkling clean in no time. Can’t thank them enough for their hospitality! Made us feel right at home.

We left Pandavpura at 11:30AM. We went to the railway station by two autos. That’s right. Ten of us in two autos. Something you won’t find in Bangalore. We discovered to our dismay that we had missed the 11:45AM train and the next train was at 2PM. We had no other choice but to wait. Did I tell you that the auto driver recognized us as the bunch of girls he’d seen at the bus stop the previous night? Our lodge owner too had seen us make our way through to the accommodation. News travels faster than the pizza delivery guy! Not that I’m complaining. Had it not been for the timely help of the localites we would have been absolutely clueless and lost.

Water didn’t help us quench our thirst. Guna, Shirley and Yashaswini  went in search of tender coconut. By then Gaja, Rosh, Divya, Supriya and Pooji were sound asleep. I kid you not, these people actually dozed off on the platform, unmindful of passers-by! I slept for a while too, but woke up in fifteen minutes as it was very hot. Guna, Shirley and Yashaswini returned with not only tender coconut but also mango and watermelon. We ate the snacks that we’d got in our bags. We didn’t want to repeat the mistake of not getting into the train on time. With bated breath we waited for the train to arrive. It was jampacked by the time it reached our station. It was coming from Mysore, hence seats were already full. People were mindlessly pushing themselves into the compartments even when there was no space for human feet. In this mayhem Guna got separated from the rest of us. She was stuck in a compartment all alone. Gaja, Yashaswini, Supriya and I got into one bogie while the rest of them got into another one. There was no way of moving even an inch so the possibility of getting together in one compartment was ruled out. We spent around two hours of the journey standing in the suffocating atmosphere. We sat on the floor for a while, but hawkers kept coming in so we had to make way for them. It was a truly horrendous journey back home. It was 5PM when we finally reached Majestic. Got a bus and reached home at six. When I look back on it, I can’t help but marvel how we successfully pulled the trek off despite having no plan. I’m also very thankful for all those beautiful souls who were there to guide us. Much-needed vacay, check. It was truly one hell of a trip! One that I’ll never forget.

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