Kodaikanal is a beautiful place. I had been to Kodai for sight-seeing a decade ago. So, when a trek was announced at a place near Kodai, I jumped at the opportunity. An army of 45 people reached Kodai on a chilly morning. After breakfast and the near endless wait for our guide Kodai Mani, we were off to Kukkal village from where we had to start the trek. On the way to Kodai, Rinkesh couldn’t control his bladder. So, when the bus stopped and he got down, many rushed after him shouting, “Yay! view point” … lol!

A village enroute to Kukkal

A village enroute to Kukkal

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Let me start off with some statistics 😉

No. of days – 3.5 (31-Dec-2009 afternoon to 3-Jan-2010)
No. of bikes – 10
No. of people – Around 20
Total Distance (home to home) – 1004 kms
Top Speed – 110 kmph (I know Wild Kannan wouldn’t agree but this is what my speedo displayed)
Lowest Speed – 35 kmph (lowest speed on top gear)
Best Chunks of Road – Chidambaram to Pichavaram, Vailankanni to Vedaranyam, NH-45
Worst Chunk of Road – Vedaranyam to Mannargudi
Most Challenging Drive – Chidambaram to Karaikal
No. of minor accidents – Ninety eight minus ninety nine plus two (Clue: Its a signed integer).
No. of major accidents – Nine Thousand point five six four seven divided by four hundred and sixty eight point two into zero

The Group :D

The Group 😀

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Oh boy! Oh Boy!! OH BOY!!! I don’t want to say how awesome this trek was. This trek and some of its special moments will remain etched in my memory for years to come. Nagala is full of water all through the year & since monsoon is around its end, the dam near the hills would be brimming. That would present ripe opportunities for swimming & I would be able to put my new skills to test. Hence, when the trek was announced as a first timer’s trek, I gladly signed up and waited with bated breath for the D-day to show up! And show up … it did! After 3 excruciating weeks.

I couldn’t contain my excitement what-so-ever and few days in the middle, I almost fell sick with excitement. I was high. The thought of crystal clear water, those tiny beautiful waterfalls, gurgling stream and varied colour rocks strewn across in the form of jewels … OMG! Every such thought was driving me crazy. Moreover, we were a gang on the treks and this was a pretty easy trail. So just imagine the fun we would be having on the way and back! To add to it, it was Max’s birthday on Sunday, 6th December … Too many things to celebrate for and only 48 hours. Not enough at all.

Picnic Pool Waterfall

Picnic Pool Waterfall

A few of us met at co-organizer Naveen’s home on Friday night for a quick pre-trek planning discussion and party. The night dawned into the day with none of us sleeping. Soon, everyone assembled at Koyembedu and we raced off to our dear home away from home … Nagalapuram. Distributing food and items for the next two days, we started walking towards the forests.

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See! I’m flying. It happens after every trek that I go to; whether small or large. Being in one with nature can rejuvenize you so much that you will be in that state of mind for a few weeks to come 🙂

Ombattu Gudde

View from Ombattu Gudde - Deepadakallu and Jenkallu

Ombattu Gudde or Ombattu Gudda or OG, as its fondly called, is one terrific place that’s about 6 hours from Bangalore. So… on 14th Nov 2009, 36 of us, all pumped up and excited about the next 48 hours decided to explore this place and reach the peak of OG. The peak is at a height of 968m from Mean Sea Level. The trek would put us through too many terrains in quick succession that it’s as if nature was changing boulders like we change t-shirts after a day’s work.

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Save Tada Campaign

November 3rd, 2009

Though, undoubtedly, Tada Falls (or Ubbalamadugu Falls) is one of the most beautiful places near Chennai, its also one of the most abused natural places near here. Until few years ago, when the place was just a plain old forest, it was limited to very few people who dared to explore the place and trek for themselves. But ever since the raping started in the name of Eco-Tourism, the place began to lose its shine and green.


Mother Nature could be literally heard screaming for help. She was dying a very excruciating death. Broken booze bottles everywhere and in every crevice possible, combined with tons and tons of plastic, cigarette butts, beedis and what not, the place was bleeding. It was so bad that, during the Tada Fort Exploration couple of months back, we didn’t get any interest to get in the water at all. The general abuse of the place was compounded by the fact that the forest guards and locals take money and allowed liquor and other illicit materials to be carried in to the forest. They get drunk, urinate and puke in the same stream itself, spoiling the water for those downstream. Hell! They even bring live goats from the town in to the forest and kill them to eat fresh meat 🙁 . Who knows what diseases are lurking there?

Save Tada Campaign

Save Tada Campaign

We heard the SOS message loud and clear. The men and women of the soil decided to clean up the mess and teach a lesson to the vandals raping the place.

The Gang

More than 230 people visited Tada Falls much to the chagrin of the guards and forest officials. The group was divided into 20 Garbage Busting gangs. Each gang took over a circle of about 60 yards radius along the stream. Since each team had anywhere between 10-15 people, a designated area would be freed of plastics and bottles in no time. Armed with huge garbage bags and gloves, we started collecting garbage in and around the area. Crores of plastic bottles, broken liquor bottles and other plastic materials were stuck everywhere. We retrieved them using long sticks and filled them up in our bags.

Garbage Busters in action

Garbage Busters in action

Our dear ancestors, the monkeys 😀 , became very curious of the bag’s contents and a group of them would swing down in an instant and make an attempt to get at the bags. We felt sorry that they couldn’t understand how dangerous the contents of the bags were for them.

Highlight: More than 230 people, 2 tonnes of garbage and in less than 4 hours time.


Piled up Ex-Garbage

Piled up Ex-Garbage

Then, we started walking downstream and formed a human chain to transfer the garbage bags from one person to another until the base camp was reached. We collected so much garbage that it was enough to fill up a harvest tractor up to its brim, forming a mound of sorts on its top.


The press came and recorded our activities and it got published in various newspapers in and around Chennai & Andhra Pradesh. ETV conducted an interview with Peter Van Geit (co-founder of CTC) which was aptly translated to the news channel by Aditya.  Few reporters from Deccan Chronicle had come to take note of the atrocities happening there and reported them in yesterday’s newspapers, highlighting the fact that CTC was doing its best to save the place.

The Pools !

With the day’s objective accomplished, we did what we do best 😀 – Trek to the nearest pool and chill off. By the time we climbed back to the pool, we realized how clean the place looked devoid of plastics and broken booze bottles. I felt a huge wave of satisfaction envelope me as we made our way to the pool. Jumping and diving ensued. The pool was very beautiful and there was a small and gorgeous waterfall at the end of the pool. It may have been a 30 meter  swim to it. And tell you what, it was amazing feeling to know that I was able to swim that distance on my own 😀 . Brijesh accompanied me during this time by my side just to make sure that I would be able to make it to the end. My joy knew no bounds. I was able to put my new skill to test and succeeded 😉

We had lunch besides this beautiful pool and making sure we never polluted this place, we started off after a good swim and delicious lunch.

They had it !

It was time for the guards to answer us. Through this trek, we were accompanied by Forest Officers who were in charge of maintaining sanity at Tada. They questioned the guards and guides in front of us and gave them sound warnings that if liquor and stuff happens again, their jobs will be at stake. We also informed them that these were the same guards who used to break in to our vehicles and steal valuables. They would extort money from us for taking our bikes and cars and would also harass women and children of the group. We recorded their apology & will play it back to them the next time we visit Tada.

The forest officials at least acted that they were guilty for ravaging this beautiful place. I’m doubtful that their atrocities will stop soon but I can assure you that it was a great beginning.


Highlight is the tractor which carried our collected garbage bags for disposal.

Garbage Tractor

Garbage Tractor

It was a very satisfying day. Combined with act of keeping nature intact & with an ultra-easy trek, nothing could beat this weekend. Hoping to do more of this in future. Our future is in safe hands 🙂

The Kids of the Trek

The Kids of the Trek

Photo Albums

Thanks a lot for capturing the moments shutter bugs. Without you, we wouldn’t have a story to tell today.

  1. Gowtham – The Best Album
  2. Karthik Yadav
  3. Samyak
  4. Vinoth
  5. Vijay Krishnan
  6. Raja
  7. Vijendran
  8. Hari Prasad
  9. Anupam
  10. Loganathan
  11. Hari K Balasundaram
  12. Nara

More albums on the way! Until then, catch you soon …

Ever since I discovered Opera Mini, I had installed it on my first mobile (K300i) and now the latest Opera Mini 5 beta is present on my Nokia E51. Few months ago a new browser came up for S60 3rd Edition Mobiles named Skyfire. The main selling point of this browser was almost full support for javascript and Adobe Flash with near desktop experience; which enabled us to watch YouTube videos on the mobile!

I had been using both browsers side by side for a few months now & came to feel that Opera Mini is a lot better for daily use and Skyfire is better for those one off toughie websites that must work with javascript and other stuff enabled.

Here’s an example: Recently, I started accessing my twitter account through Dabr from Opera Mini. The mobile UI rocks and zoom in and zoom out is instant. It happens in the client side. Opera Mini has an intelligent mix of client side and server side operations, whereas, all operations from Skyfire require an active internet connection. At best, internet access from mobiles through GPRS still remains patchy & hence, Skyfire should have that intelligent mix of operations and where possible, operations should be done at the client rather than server.

Opera desktop’s goodness of Speed Dial has arrived on Opera Mini 5. It’s awesome and saves you tons of clickety-clicks, which are irritating on a mobile. The whole menu system has been completely revamped. UI is smooth and fast (which is a downside with Skyfire)!

The best feature of Opera Mini of all is tabbed browsing. That blows away any other mobile browser on the planet. Being fast and loading heavy pages on separate tabs is a pretty awesome thing. By long pressing on a link, you can open them in new tabs inside Opera Mini. Hence, the Dabr + Opera Mini seems to beat any other twitter competition. Saved pages are really saved pages. They can be accessed even when there’s no connectivity.

Recently we had to book tickets to watch a movie at Mayajaal and Skyfire displayed the website amazingly well. Opera Mini suffered there. Similarly, Opera Mini rocks in opening popup windows (when clicked explicitly), whereas Skyfire fails. All in all, if you are going on a long journey with conservative power, Opera Mini is the way to go. Or if you want near desktop experience on your mobile for all websites, then Skyfire is the way to go.

Skyfire Gripes:

  1. No tabbed browsing.
  2. No landscape view of web pages and videos.
  3. Phone heats up after about 15 minutes of usage. Doesn’t ever happen with Opera Mini.
  4. Compared to Opera Mini, it is very heavy on battery.
  5. No option to logout from your Skyfire account. You have to manually delete the “Preferences” file to logout.
  6. The assumption that an active internet connection is always available.
  7. Proxy server support and proxy authentication i.e. HTTP code 407. I have been asking this for so long that I’m beginning to feel that this feature won’t come at all.

Opera Mini Gripes:

  1. No flash support.
  2. Javascript should be supported better.
  3. Zoom in to images is dismal. I hope this issue will be corrected when Opera Mini 5 comes out beta.
  4. This browser also doesn’t have support for proxy servers and proxy authentication.

What are your opinions on these two browsers? What browser are you using on your mobile phone?

Last Sunday, we celebrated Ayudha Pooja at our Kalari class. It is during this day that we revere the tools/weapons we use & also pray that they may be used carefully in all scenarios. Shortly after the pooja was over, each of us had to do a sampler performance using the tools that we had kept in pooja. The sampler turned out to be an extempore one. So, we aren’t in the usual practice dress.

Pooja setting with our weapons

Pooja setting with our weapons

Present below are two videos of my master:

  1. Using the Silambam
  2. Vett Aruval fight with a senior student


Silambam is an integral part of Kalari. Using just a stick and rapid movements, a defender would be able to ward himself off various attack vectors and give them back a taste of their own medicine. My master performs a basic lesson that is taught to beginners in Silambam.

The first 14 seconds of the video showcases the “Guru Vanakkam” or paying respects to the teacher before starting off. Watch closely. You will be able to hear the Whoooosh sound of the wind. That’s also the speed with which the Silambam is being rotated.

Aruval Fight

Aruval is a sharp instrument that’s used to cut tree branches, tender coconuts and in some cases, heads of humans 😉 . In this video, my master is fighting with a senior student using a sharp aruval. Usually the edges are devoid of their sharpness during practice sessions. But this one was sharp & one has to be very careful when using these weapons. The video below is a 30 second teaser. Fighting with aruvals is taught after about a year and a half of continuous practice.

Hope you enjoyed these videos 🙂 Let me know how you feel in the comments!

Before you understand what this post is about, you have to first read about the Venkateswara Dead or Alive trekking experience. Go ahead. I will wait.

Twiddling thumbs & waiting …


Back? Good 😀

Way back in Cave Pool 1, I was holding the sleeping mat and was trying to swim in shallow waters. As I was doing that, Vinod Sir swam to me and asked, “Hey did you go to cave pool 2 and see that gorgeous waterfall?”, to which I replied, “No .. I haven’t gone there yet.” He was visibly shocked; “What?? You haven’t gone there yet? Having come this far, you don’t want to miss it.” I had my defense ready, “But I can’t swim in deep water.” to which he said, “Hey, that’s not a problem. There are so many *real* swimmers here and you can’t drown. Grab a mat, go to that perpendicular ledge, climb it up and jump in. If you don’t go there, you are missing the essense of the trek!”

That did it. I was very curious at what the waterfall would look like and at the same time, I was afraid to go to the other side because of my scanty swimming skills. Before coming to this pool, I was telling Gowri Shankar that today would be the day that I would lose fear of swimming in deep water and learn diving. Gowri was enthusiastic about it and said that he would surely help me shake off those stupid imaginary fears. I made up my mind that I would dive in to the deep water from the ledge of cave pool 1. Then some swimmer would help me with a sleeping mat. With the mat, I would swim to the ledge, climb on to it and visit the cave pool 2 & see if I could have a dip there.

By that time Vinod Sir came back to the shore. I told him and Anagha that I would be diving and they be ready to save me … in case I drown. The water was very deep and the height from which I would jump would be around 20 feet. They were in position. They were positioned at about 3 feet away from the ledge. Each of them were holding a mat and told me to jump. I climbed to the ledge and went to its edge. Then the fear started off. I just couldn’t get myself to jump.

Another tree design that looks like a man!

I felt my legs trembling and I was profusely sweating. I have never seen a trembling leg before. So I looked downwards to see if my legs were really trembling. But heck no! They weren’t trembling at all. Sweating? I couldn’t digest that also. I felt as if I were sweating but I wasn’t sweating also. Only my hair was wet. My heart was pounding. My intestine was in my mouth. Vinod Sir was shouting from the bottom, “Dude, jump in. We are there.” & Anagha was shouting from the other side, “Jump in Aswin. Nothing will happen. Once you go in, you will come up again & we shall give you the mat then.” As this fear episode was happening, Vinod Sir lost all hope on me and climbed on to the ledge. He came next to me & jumped in to the water as if it was so normal.

Then Vishal came in and jumped. Then Indira and then a few more. One by one, people just walked and jumped. My mind was goddamn racing. “Is it really so simple? Or am I complicating it so much? What the heck is it?” My mind was having conflicting thoughts. “What if you drown?” and then it would answer, “No no… they would save you. No one wants a trek to be spoiled by non-swimming idiot.” and again, “What if you hit the rocks when jumping?” to which, “Ha!! There’s only water below and all the rocks are behind. There’s no way you would hit the rocks.” My legs were trembling even more. Every time I looked down at the water, my mind would give some sort of conflicting lecture or other. At this time, there were 6 or so swimmers down there who were all literally yelling at me to jump. But I couldn’t.

Slowly one by one went away. Anagha was the only one who was waiting & damn patient with me. I was standing there and wondering what to do. Should I climb down the way I came up and miss the waterfall & go back a loser? Or should I get over my fear, jump in and go to the waterfall? Instantly I knew the answer. The trembling came back again. It was a lot stronger this time. From the opposite ledge, Gowri Shankar took a perfect dive. Mind you, he didn’t jump. He dived. He saw me and said, “Aswin!! You haven’t jumped yet? Come on, come on, we are there to save you.” Anagha was shouting the same thing at me she said earlier.

Suddenly, that wave engulfed me. The wave of courage. Mind became clear. I was standing on the edge. Trembling legs stopped. The only thought was, “When you land on water, close your mouth and shut your nose.” Done. I screamed, “Gowri, I’m coming …” and JUMPED!!! I could see myself going down at drop dead speed. I don’t even know whether I screamed. Suddenly, the speed decreased to a crawl and I was in water! What the Hell!! I’m in water. Whoa!! I started paddling my legs under water and was moving upwards. My eyes were open this time. I could see Gowri Shankar’s legs paddling and his hands were on the lookout for mine. I could see that from below. I shouted, “Gowriiii” but he couldn’t hear and I shouted once more. Immediately I realized that I didn’t open my mouth at all while shouting. Mind was playing double games again. I knew better this time. I closed my mouth and shut my nose. I was slowly going upwards.

Tree on the way

A few seconds later, I felt a hand tugging at me. Yay! I hit home. In a shot, Gowri pulled me up. With an amazing speed, head came up first… HUFF .. PUFF… SPLIRTT … HAH .. SPIT .. WHOA .. SPLIRTT .. PHEW … BRRR … Yayy!! Gowri handed me the mat to which I held on to & soon everyone was clapping. Or at least I heard so. Mind playing double games again? Don’t know. But who cares. I asked Gowri whether I can do it once more. This time it was easy. Get up on the ledge. Jump. When in water, close your mouth and shut your nose. Done. It was over in a second. Then myself, Gowri and Anagha swam to the perpendicular ledge, then on to cave pool 2.

Anagha dived here immediately. I dived after her & Gowri helped me with a sleeping mat. Here, he taught me the underwater cycling trick. I was cycling and slowly went under the waterfall. It was pushing me. Then for a second time, we went around it. The water was warm and we moved in once more. Gowri told me to look above & I had a look at the most gorgeous place ever. The two hills created a ceiling with a huge kind of hole in the middle. Through one part of the hole, the waterfall was gushing with a ferocious pace. Through the other part, the hill’s peak was visible brightly illuminated by Sun.

From cave pool 2, we slid down to cave pool 1. I held on to the sleeping mat while sliding down the water slope. At this point, Ravindran helped me and both of us swam to the cave pool 1’s shore.

Phew! What an experience that was. I lost the fear of deep water and height. I will definitely put this to test next time I visit Nagala or Venkateswara. I need to thank an innumerable number for giving me this experience. Gowri Shankar, Vinod Sir, Anagha, Ravindran, Ravi Ghosh, Indira, Chitra, Mohan S, Max and a few more who made it all the better.

Thanks guys! I owe you one! I came back a winner.

Update: My cave pool drama has been written. Do check it out.

Trekking is exhilarating. Trekking is addictive. Trekking is challenging. Every time a trek is announced, I see my spirits being increased to the levels that it had never gone before. Despite any silly setbacks that may occur, you can see me in the finest of moods on the week before the trek & on the trek… Especially since this was one kind of a trek that I had never attempted in my life before.

Welcome to DOA a.k.a “Dead or Alive” trek. These treks have trails the pass through some of the most amazing rock formations, crystal clear deep pools with tasty water, not to mention gorgeous waterfalls and amazing hill-top views that put regular tourist spots to shame. These treks also contain risky up-hills which have to be scaled & long streams; the only way to cross them is by swimming to the other side. Its also on these treks that humans exhibit their best’est’ qualities and is a team building exercise in itself. Where else can you learn how to cooperate and have fun with people whom you have never met before?

Venkateswara Hills

Venkateswara Hills

Chennai warriors travelled to Renigunta by train, where we were joined the Bangalore team. Train journey was awesome. We had formed a gang and teased Mohan S & Karthikeyan about the fact that they wanted to camp together on day 1 on the same sleeping mat on top of each other 😀 . They were teased to death until the station came, where we had to disembark. An hour or so later, the Bangalore team joined in. It was a quick time for introductions. From the earlier Nagala Trek, I met Ajay and Aditya & Mohan S and Ananth joined us from the previous Tada Fort Conquer Exploration. With so much known faces and exciting new ones, time literally flew by.

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August 23rd, 2009

Its good to be a kid – a *real* kid – once in a while.

I’m a regular visitor to the beach. Its one of my favourite places in the city. Where else do you get amazing peace of mind with lots of space and hot bajji? So, one fine day, myself and 2 more of my friends decided that its been many days since we went wet our feet at the beach. Marina is just about 10 minutes walk from my home.

Beach :D

Beach 😀

It was a full moon day and the tides were high. We went straight waist deep into the water. A few minutes later, a huge and strong wave came and pushed us down! Since I knew a bit of swimming, I floated with the water and reached the shore. This was something I never expected.

Two and two together, we ran to waist deep again & turned our backs. When the next wave came in, we jumped on top of the wave and swam to the shore. That was fun I tell you!

From somewhere, a rubber ball fell besides us. We picked up the ball and tried to throw it back to the claimant but no one claimed it 😉 and it was some more fun time! Totally wet from all the swimming, one of us stood near the shore and threw the ball in to the water. We dived in to retrieve it and throw it back. All through this episode, we were making so much noise that passers by would have surely noticed us. To hell with them! Who cares … We were having so much fun!

After an hour and a half of this, we decided to start back home. The lone noor rooba note in my pocket was fully wet and dripping. Carefully we retrieved it and exchanged it for some spicy kadalai and bajji.

Its nice to be like this once in a while 🙂

Image Credits - http://www.flickr.com/photos/chuck_taylor/3846464151/