It was the long weekend ....... August 12th to August 15th .... a great opportunity for everyone to plan a BIGGG vacation. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of the lucky ones ..... With an impending Project review in a week's time, I had to go in to work over the weekend - Something that I had never done in all my tenure as an engineer!!!
Everything has a first time ...... and this weekend saw me doing a lot of stuff for the first time!!! But that wasn't on the plan! All I planned to do was to laze around at Muthathi - by the river - when the BMC outing was happening there.
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In typical fashion, Neeraj decided to take a bunch of 40+ ppl to Muthathi ...... yes, you read it right - 40 + ppl on the trek!! This was slated from Saturday (the 13th of August 2k6) morning to Monday evening - I decided to join in for a day - Saturday nite to Sunday evening...... and ain't I glad I did that!!!
I left Bangalore by 1630 hrs and drove down Kanakpura Road ..... just too many memories associated with this stretch of land!! By 1815 I was at Muthathi!! A distance of just around 75 kms ..... no sweat!
I reached the place where all the junta had crossed over to the other bank to camp, but the coracle oarsmen refused to ferry me across!! A forester was there on the other bank, I was told, and he left this bank sayin he would get everyone back to this side .........
So I waited ...... till everyone came back - kicked out by the Forester - or the Forester came back after consenting to our request to let us stay!! Neither of these happened! I saw Team BMC cross over ......... and my adventure for the day had just begun!!!
Apparently, the Forester wasn't convinced when we apprised him that we did indeed have the blessings of the Officials to camp out there and he insisted that a DFO/RFO call him and tell him that it was OK ...... It was upto us now, to have a Forest Officer call him up!!! Now any sane person who knows how Government Organizations operate in India, would agree that its next to impossible to find someone at a Govt Office ...... on a second saturday ...... at 7 pm!!!! :-)
We were trekkers, not magicians. And so, no call came forth to the forester and he grudgingly obliged to let us stay over considering it was well past dusk by then and it didn't seem too feasible to ferry everyone across to the other side. It wasn't the question of ferrying 40 ppl, but that of transporting all the luggage too! We had tents, sleeping bags, personal baggage and food for 40 ppl ..... for 3 days!! An invasion ..... thats the word for it!! :-D
And so it was - The forester returned to the other bank, left a couple of Forest Guards to 'keep an eye on us' and muttered something about 'things not being in his hands anymore'. Jubilant that we didn't have to concede our territory, we failed to recognize the seriousness of his remark.
It was then that we got on to the more important things - spelt FOOD!! :-) We started the dinner proceedings with delicious soup and stuffed ourselves with maggi to sate the appetite that the soup had presumably awakened. Things were looking hunky-dory ....... but not for long!!!
Just past midnight, we saw headlights approach our campsite and stop on the river bank (not the one at Muthathi). The forest guards leapt to their feet and rushed to greet the jeep. We could then see an army wade across the ankle deep water that separated our camp on this 'island' from the bank.
"Who gave you permission to camp here?? What are you guys doing here?" - The voice of a man in Khakhis and three stars adorning his uniform on the shoulders thundered at us. No response. No one whispered. No one was even breathing, I presume. I rushed across the campsite, with the Team, and started blabbering ........ something ..... anything ......... I had no idea what I was saying, but I preferred to hear my voice than his!!
Am not exactly sure, but I think what I said amounted to something to the effect that we had permissions to camp on the other side and we had been misled by the local villagers that we could camp on this side with no problems at all. And I hastily added that we were, in fact, ready to leave, but it was just too late to shift everything across again. We would leave as soon as the next day dawns on us.
The visitors we had, were in fact the RFO of Hanur Wildlife Division, accompanied by a few of his staff and a couple of guards brandishing the famous double-barrel guns. We weren't really sure what his business was in the entire scheme of things till he explained that this side of the river comes under the jurisdiction of the Hanur Range whereas the other bank was under the Kanakpura RFO.
All of us then rambled, in turn, about how we weren't aware of this jurisdriction here, about how BMC had contributed to the Muthathi area by arranging "Trek to Clean" programs, about how we had put up signboards around this place in regions of danger to advice caution and for the general public not to litter the river bank and that we didn't intend any harm - of course!
The RFO, to his credit, accepted our comments, but made one valid statement - "How did someone like BMC who have done all these stuff NOT know that they needed permissions??" ... And so the rambling from our side started again ..... about how we weren't aware that there were two different jurisdictions and about how we weren't aware that there were two different jurisdictions and about how we weren't aware that there were two different jurisdictions and about how we weren't aware that there were two different jurisdictions and so on ....... :-D
We finally consented to write out an apology letter and pay the fine as per the rules for entering the protected wildlife area. After careful scrutiny of our apology letter (which incidentally was in English), we were directed to write a 'statement' in Kannada now!! I had the pen in my hand .... and I don't remember writing an alphabet in Kannada since my exams in II PUC!!! I managed to write out a letter to the effect that we had been camping on the other side of Muthathi when we were 'found' by the Forest officials; we have apologised duly and have agreed to pay out the fine for this act of offence.
And with that, this episode came to an end. It was around 1:30 am now - the night was still young!! I lazed around by the riverside till half past three - the sound of the stream flowing past, the moonlight dancing through the leaves of the tree I was lying under .......... It was an awesome feeling! :-)
I got an hour of sleep ..... and half more of the same. At 5 am, I could hear someone saying "We need to shift ... we need to shift" with some urgency in his voice. I recognized that urgency, 'shifted' my position and went back to sleep!! :-)
Its not that this sleep lasted long. A couple of minutes and I could hear something about rising water levels!! That made me spring up and take notice!! And it was true ..... The place where our tents were, was slowly getting a trickle of water. It was 'Operation Evacuation' now!! Everyone was up and we moved on to higher ground - just thirty feet across .... and maybe three feet higher. By the time we had moved all the stuff to higher ground, I could see people back in their tents - sleeping!!! No one saw the seriousness of the situation I guess.
Image 1 - The relocation
I don't blame them much coz this is how the situation looked at around 6 am. The luggage and the tents had been shifted to higher ground. The only water, in the background of the photograph, was a small section seperating us from the Hanur bank and this was probably knee-deep. No causes for concern. Or was it??
To get the true picture, herez a snap of the other side. All the water in the foreground was from the past one hour and the small stretches of brown that one can see in the center was right where our tents were pitched the last night - It was as dry as a bone then!! The background has the hills on the Muthathi side of the river ...... a few hundred meters across.
Image 2 - The overnight camping site at dawn
It is indeed worrying that the water level rose as much in just an hour! But not to everyone!! More than half the crowd was still lazing around in their sleeping bags ..... dismissing my cries of concern as overly eggagerated!! There still were a handful of junta who stepped up and started pulling the tents down and packing 'em up. The best way to get people to move was to lure them away --- and thats what we did. Neeraj announced that everyone in the first batch of rafting had to pack up and leave immediately ..... and that ensured that atleast half the junta would hurry up.
By this time, this is how the scene looked!! The patches of brown seen in the last snapshot were no longer there, and the water was now knee deep!! You can see someone (in the right of the pic) wading across to the other side.
Image 3 - The same camping spot half an hour later
The arrangement was - People would wade across 100 mtrs of knee-deep water, from where a coracle was in action to ferry them across another 100 m stretch (See pic below). There, they would be taken into another coracle which would take them to safe ground in Muthathi.
Image 4 - The two-stop journey to safety
Seems pretty good rite?? So it did, to me too! I was thinking "Half the ppl across .... and the rest would soon follow" ..... but it wasn't to be. Why??? Coz someone out there ...... amidst all this confusion ..... decides to make TEA!!!! Yes ..... You read it right ..... someone wanted to have tea ..... and junta enthusiastically put together a fire and started brewing some tea!!! Aaaaaaagh!!
Image 5 - Junta brewing TEA!!
This pic doesn't show much cause for panic rite? .... The water doesn't look menacing at all. But check this pic taken just a short while later .........
Image 6 - Water putting off the tea fire!!
Yep ...... Water started coming in right where the fire was lit ..... and put it off!! In another fifteen minutes, the water flowing across was knee-deep!!! By then, things on the other side weren't great either. The first patch of brown in Image 4 was now in waist deep water .... and the patch seen beyond that was sinking rapidly!! In another few minutes, that would be below the water too ........
Image 7 - The rapidly sinking 'islands'
Now there were just five of us left in the Island - Roopa, Khurram, Naji, PJ and PJ ..... Just one of the PJs is me .... am not big enough to be counted twice!! :-D
Here we were, contemplating our situation when the other PJ, looking out into the horizon with sadness in his eyes, says, "Meri girlfriend ne meri jhooti kasam khaayi hogi" ..... That, to me, was the dialouge of the trip!! And yea .... damn his girlfriend for putting us in trouble!!! :-D
In highly melodramatic fashion (as typical in Hindi movies), we burst into a song sequence - "Pal ...... rahe yaa na rahe kal ..... kal .... yaad aayenge ye pal!!!!" :)))))
We were soon joined by Vijay and a bunch of villagers who didn't consider it safe to cross across in that coracle!! We now wanted to use this coracle and get to the Henur side of the river ...... The boatsman was shouting for people and no one was moving!! Junta were busy having a smoke!! I just lost it there!! A moment of flared temper followed and we were soon on safe ground - albeit on the wrong side of the river!!
Image 8 - Marooned!!! A play-act by three!! :-D
We waited there for over an hour till a few coracles struggled across the stream and reached our bank. The place where we had camped overnight was now in deeep waters. We got into a coracle, only to discover that this had a gaping hole in it!!! We fell on each other to get out of this one while the villager calmly stuffed a towel through this slit and asked people to get back in!!!! I was laughing about this all through the journey across the river - a struggle by the oarsman to keep the coracle in course across the strong drift of the waters of the Cauvery. At 1000 hrs, finally, our ordeal was over ....... and we heaved a collective sigh of relief!! :-)
In afterthought ...........
1. It was pathetic that the last ones (which included me) decided to stay on the 'island' instead of wading across to the Hanur bank when the water wasn't as risky ........2. Considering that we had ropes and rock climbing equipment, the last ones should have had it on person in case there would be a need to use the ropes for river crossing and/or rescue.
Making tea wasn't that bad an idea ...... It was really good!!!! Slurrrrrrrrrp!!! :-)