Swami Nikhilaananda said:
"Bad luck always comes in wholesale, but the sun always rises after the dark night"
We had planned to have a trip somewhere close by. It started off with only a handful of people. But as the planning progressed, we had more and more people joining in. Finally, after some confusion about who was coming and who was not, we had a group of 17 people. We had booked a Swaraj Mazda - a 21 seater mini bus.
We met up at two of our friends' houses, and the vehicle picked us all up, and by around one, we were hurtling towards Skandagiri. The bus journey was a regular one, with friends catching up and frequent jokes being made about one another. We had crossed the airport by then... Some time later, there seemed to be a small commotion, and we found that one of our friends had a severe stomach ache. She started crying and asked for the vehicle to be turned back. If we had done that, then by the time we would reach the hill after returning to the city, it would have been time for the sun to rise. That would defeat the purpose of the trip. But we couldn't have our friend in that state.
Instead, Pavan and I decided to go for an alternate plan. We took the bus back by a small distance, and hired a taxi cab - A Ford Ikon... Soon, four of us were coming back to Bangalore, while the rest of them continued on their way. The plan was to drop them back home, and get the cab to drive us back to the place where we had parted ways. Meanwhile, the rest of them were supposed to go to the hill and start climbing. The mini bus was supposed to drop them off and come back to collect us... This way, worst case, only Pavan and I would miss the sun rise. Moreover, we were pretty confident we wouldn't miss it, considering we could climb pretty fast, and the other group had some girls who could face difficulty climbing the steep hill.
The driver of the taxi cab was a guy who apparently enjoyed driving fast. And I mean really fast... Interestingly he seemed to know how to go to the top gear and not come down, and I am pretty confident he didn't know where the brakes were. He told us that he had reached 150 kmph at one point of time. I asked Pavan who was sitting in the front to put on his seat-belt, and we at the back took out our copies of Bhagawad Gita (*sarcasm alert*) and started reciting verses from it... It was important that we knew that death of body isn't death of soul, and we wanted to go to heaven... We were pretty sure of the "death of body" part, considering the speed with which he was driving. Pavan started talking to the driver to keep him occupied so that he wouldn't drive us off the edge. It was amusing for me to listen to him talking about random topics like sugarcane fields, education system and ministers, profit and labour problems, etc. The driver was being rather philosophic.
After dropping the girls back and waving goodbyes, we started back... This time the driver was happier and spirited. He was still in the spirit of the highway, and forgot that interior roads have humps. He drove over humps at the same speed as a regular road, causing the car to jump off like the ones we see in movies, the car was actually making slight lateral movements, skidding as he braked on reaching the ground, and the driver would say - "sshhiiitt" as we reached the ground - I saw a lump in Pavan's throat as my neck made a snapping sound... This time I took my own advice and put on the seatbelt. After Pavan's repeated requests of driving little slower explaining that it wouldn't matter if we reached fifteen minutes late (than returning *late*) the driver reduced the number of "hump-jump"s... We saw the city seemed to be teeming with policemen - We were happy that our city seemed to be safer than before.
Finally we reached the meeting point, got off, paid the driver and he went on his way after shaking hands with us... We kissed the ground, fortunate to still be in one piece. Pavan tried calling up the mini bus driver who was not answering his call. Subsequently I was able to get through him, and we told him that we were waiting. The road on which we were waiting for a wide one, but strangely lonely. There was not a soul in sight... A bright well-lit throughway with no traffic, not even a vehicle in sight for a long time. We waited for quite some time, with Pavan concluding that this was going to be one of those trips that he wouldn't forget. Finally the mini-bus arrived, and we started off towards the hill... Pavan suggested we sleep for some time, to gather some of our spent energy... The energy that we had spent clutching to the seats of our high-speed taxi. And we soon realised that it was not going to be possible.
The mini bus was rattling away to glory - Apparently the manufacturers decided that springs would be a waste of money to be put in a mini-bus. Or maybe they had fallen off somewhere. We both were very excited. The climb apparently takes one and a half hours... We wanted to rush upwards and catch the rest of our friends on their way up. We were constantly looking at the time. Some time later, the driver told us that it was the first time he was seeing things around him... we were lost! The road was very narrow and we couldn't even turn the vehicle back. I was confident the driver would have known the route as he had dropped off the rest once. We looked around for any person whom we could ask for directions. But nobody was awake at that unearthly hour. Finally after driving some distance, we were able to find enough space to get the bus back. On our way back, we saw a lorry coming towards us. The driver signalled him to stop and asked him if he knew how to go towards Skandagiri.
The lorry driver was one of those who like to spit for no reason... And he had a strange habit of spitting through his teeth. It was annoying to listen to the squeezing sound, once in two minutes as he spat. He said he had no idea which way the hill was because he had not even heard of the hill before. The guy who was sitting next to him was staring at us through the darkness. The driver then proceeded to show us directions. We were sure the directions would be wrong, considering he had never heard of the hill. Then Pavan remembered that he had written a note on which he had some landmarks - things that he had pulled out from Google Maps. We asked him about one of the landmarks - a Vishveshwarayya statue. This he knew, and he directed us towards it.
Shortly we reached the place, after the driver goofing around once again and getting stuck on a large rock which later I had to remove for him to move ahead. We were at the base of the hill. We started running towards the hill. We asked a couple of men for the place from which we could start our climb. We had a lot of energy and zest to reach the top. Pavan suggested that we use only one torch at a time so that we could conserve the power for later. I agreed, and we started walking on the wide muddy path that lay in front of us. Soon, the path started snaking around, and the bushes around us increased. The night was dark, the sky was clear. I looked up to see a cloudless sky, with innumerable stars studded like diamonds. I could see the narrow crescent moon at a distance, that seemed to be partially hidden behind a wisp of clouds. We trudged ahead, as the ground below was not solid, but rather heavily muddy at that point. We then reached a place where the path seemed to split into two. We took one of them arbitrarily. I had not worn my watch as wearing it on trips such as these would be risking losing it or damaging it. I took out my cell phone to look at the time, and found the battery was in its last stages. We found the path had started going steadily upwards.
We seemed to stumble across thorny shrubs very often, and we could feel them stinging our skin. Our clothes were getting caught quite often because of the high density. And taking them out slowly was not only wasting our time, but seemed to be impossible as our fingers were getting cut as well. We started pulling it forecefully and moved on. We walked through the snaking ways, climbing over boulders and small rocks, looking for paths. Quite often I could hear rustling in the bushes nearby, and I was not sure what it was. It was too fast to be a snake, and too short to be a rodent. We ignored them and walked ahead. Several times, we tripped and almost fell, regaining balance at the last moment. We climbed steadily. Time seemed to be running out, as we had less than an hour for sun rise. Or so we thought. At one point of time, a sudden movement sent something flying out of a bush in front of me, making repeated fluttering sounds. I flashed my torch in that direction, and the beam revealed a small bird trying to fly... It had already hit a rock in front of it, and was trying to fly straight through it. It couldn't see in the dark, and was flying in a way which would be futile... We decided to leave the bird as it is, and walked towards the right...
Pavan's legs got stuck in the vines a cople of times, and my ankles got twisted twice as I put my leg in short crevice. We almost reached the top of the hill that we were climbing, and we realised that what lay in front of us, was a huge stone wall. It was enormous, and vertical. And the boulder spread in both directions. There was no way we could climb past it. We realised that our entire journey so far had been in vain. We had spent a lot of energy, because of the speed with which we were moving in the beginning. Our breathing was faster. We decided to walk back... And we didn't know which way was back. Everything was beginning to look alike. Pavan's torch had decided to give up by then. The bright yellow beam was now a chrome yellow one, indicating it was dying. It wouldn't go beyond a couple of metres, and was useless in the vast wasteland that lay sprawling beyond us. I switched on my torch. I had been carrying it in my hand, and soon had realised that a miner's hat would have been more useful, as it had rendered me to be like a three limbed man.
The powerful beam of my torch illuminated the path in front of us, revealing paths in various places. By then, we had learnt that the paths that we were seeing were merely illusions. They would invariably turn out to be more thorny bushes. We were surely going to be stung and scratched even more badly. We slowly walked downwards. We had realised by then that climbing rocks was easier than coming down, as we couldn't see where to keep our foot. The foot holds were few, and with the torch in one hand, and the bag dangling from our shoulders, the descent was rather difficult. I was wary, fearing the loss of my teeth in case of a fall. The torch would have immediately shattered. Plastic doesn't go well with powerful rocks. We reached a flat surface, and were walking away and suddenly, we heard a low growling sound. My torch had lost most of its power by then, and would have been useless pretty soon. The growling sound reminded me of what Kiran had told me earlier... Dogs! There were dogs in Skandagiri (just like any other place, but the timing and location was bad). And this reminded me of the scene from Avatar where the protagonist gets lost in the jungle in the beginning, and dogs attack him. I turned around and flashed my dim light in the direction of the sound, and a gleaming pair of eyes was approaching quickly. We could hear more than one dog approaching... There were no stones to pelt when we needed one, as we had reached the flat muddy surface... No sticks around, nothing.
I was wondering what we could do. There was no way we could outrun them. They could smell and approach us anyway... And we couldn't see anything. The only way we could do anything would be to climb a higher surface, and the higher surfaces were behind the dogs, and what was behind us were thorny bushes... They were around us, when we heard the sound of a man calling out, asking us from which town we were from. We told him that we were from Bangalore. Apparently these dogs were his friends. Again, reminded me of the antagonist from the animated movie, Up [Note to self - Stop watching too many movies]. We told him that we wanted to climb the hill Skandagiri. He told us that we were in the wrong path (Du'h) and told us that he was wondering who these poor fellows (Read morons :P) were, climbing and moving around here. We told him that we would pay him money if he took us to the top. He said that the guards would beat him if he did that, but would show us till the path for money. We gave him Rs. 40 and he walked us a hundred metres with the dogs running ahead of us and sniffing around, looking at us. He pointed out in one direction, and said that if we walked straight that way, we would reach the path that could easily be walked.
We thanked him, and set out. The sky was becoming brighter. We had received several calls by then from our friends who were asking us about our situation. One interesting question was where we were... Krishnaranjan was flashing a light from the top, and he indicated where he was standing. We realised that after all the fiasco, we were again at square one, the base of the hill, and we had run out of our energy. We had no torches by then, and my phone was dead. We had no food, and were tired. Several times we thought of giving up and going back to the van and sleeping. Pavan was telling how it would be an inspirational story if we actually did reach the top - You know, the typical movie one... Then we said to ourselves, - SCREW IT... We came so far to go to the top and we would do exactly that. No matter how long it took. And so, we valiantly ran ahead, with a sudden surge of extra energy that appeared from nowhere... and got lost again. And that reserve energy disappeared as fast as it had come. We were tired and we sat on some rock.
And then, we saw a white torch light and heard some voices. Another group had come, and there was a guide with them. We decided to join them... We moved in their direction, and followed them. The guide led them to a place, and then held a large thorny bush and pulled it to the side. And voila - A path lay behind it. We could have never guessed a path would lie behind the bush. And we would have never found it. We followed the path, and started climbing the hill. Finally we were on the right track. The climb seemed to be easy in the beginning. But we were very tired. Krishnaranjan had started downwards to help us find the path. I found his energy and drive phenomenal. The sun had started rising, but the sun rise was not spectacular - Not as spectacular as we had expected it to be, judging by the photos... The season was wrong I guess... We should have gone when the weather would have been colder. We took frequent rests, sipping water, and climbing again. After almost half our climb, we heard Krishnaranjan through some bushes. We sat for some time, and the trio resumed the climb. It was surprisingly hard. We would have ordinarily considered this climb to be average. But because of the severe loss of energy and dehydration, we couldn't take more than five-six steps at a time. We would wait for a few seconds after every six steps, and breathe heavily. We were panting quite frequently.
And the worst part of the hill is the apparent top. When you feel you have reached the top, you see that there is a top higher than it. We would get excited, and then disappointed. Krishnaranjan, of course knew that the top was really far away. In fact, at one point, I asked him how much further and he said that we had fifty percent more to climb. After what seemed to be a long climb, I asked him again, and he said that we had just completed fifty one percent. Finally, the sun had completely risen and we were almost at the top. Several others holding beer cans and cigaretters, who were coming down asked us if we were going up then. When Pavan told them we were lost, we got stupid replies like - "Yeah, it happens"...
Finally, we reached the top and got a loud cheer from our friends... We sat there for some time, had big swigs from soft drink bottles and water bottles, ate a cream bun... Spoke for some time. And then made our way downwards that was a lot easier than the exciting night we had had...