Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Camping 101: Yelagiri Hills

So, how many techies does it take to setup a camp?

Five, apparently. Although it was dark and the terrain was rocky and the tents malfunctioned, but with sufficient intellect, motivational skills and YouTube, it was a job well done in the end. Of course, food, water and firewood were provided by the resort we were put up at, and thank goodness, there was no wildlife, especially mosquitoes.

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Me and a group of vella friends had decided to go on a camping trip to Yelagiri, a small hill station in Tamil Nadu, around 200 km from Bangalore. The occasion was the birthday of a fellow aspiring camper. It was decided that we will do our experiments at the Aura Valley Resort (which allegedly is a great place to come as you are). Tents and sleeping bags were to be rented from a shop in Banashankari, Bangalore, everything else was to be taken care of by the resort folks.

On the eve of the trip I found out that this was supposed to be a bike trip, and mine needed some desperate servicing if it was to make it through. Oil had not been changed for the last 5000 km, the rear break was non-functional, the battery was dead cold and all kinds of sounds were coming from all kinds of places. So, a couple of hours before we were to start off, I got everything (except the battery) reasonably fixed for the trip.

We took-off off from Koramangala at around 3 PM, five stragglers on three bikes; my Bullet, an Avenger and a Karizma. Our initial party consisted of eight people and four bikes, but three of them backed out due to unreasonable apprehensions and reasonable phobias.

 We started off in the opposite direction, to Banashankari, to pickup our tents and sleeping bags (and  also some Indian wine and Scotch). Then we got on NICE Road, and circled around Bangalore to reach Electronics City, and finally crossed the state border to reach Hosur in Tamil Nadu at 6 PM.

One feature of this trip (and for that matter every other bike trip) was that the party members kept getting separated, no matter how much you tried to keep them together. We had all decided to stop in Hosur for tea, but only two bikes actually stopped. Lucky, we had earlier decided to stop and wait at the next major town, Krishnagiri, in case of such an event, and phones were working well in any case.

We actually did find each other again at Krishnagiri. After taking a quick break there, we continued. The state highway we were traveling on was generally comfortable, despite the fact that it was largely under construction.

We got separated and regrouped again after Nemili. It took us a while after that, before we figured out the rural road to Jolarpet (which itself happened to be blocked by a couple of huge sugarcane trucks). After crossing Hosur, not knowing Tamil becomes a big problem. We mainly relied on sign language and instinct to understand directions the locals were trying give.

After crossing Jolarpet, we reached the foot of the hill. Our climb up to Yelagiri was an awesome ride through winding roads and it had a fantastic view night of the plains below. My bike, in spite of its dead battery, managed brighten up the road for the rest of the group. We reached the resort, which was in the middle of Yelagiri, at around 9 PM.

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Yelagiri seemed like a typical remote colonial hill station, the kinds that you find in Himachal Pradesh. It has scattered with tourist resorts and local settlements, but it is largely a hilly woodland. Basically, a perfect peaceful weekend get-away. 

The resort was something like a jungle lodge; put up in the middle of the forest, surrounded by huge trees and lakes and, apparently, some wildlife. Its rooms were like row houses and it had a small mess and an attached kitchen. It was generally nondescript except for some large empty plots of land, one of which we used as our camping site.

We were carrying two tents: Quechua tente T3 plus and a T2 (and also Quechua sleeping bags). Setting up one of those is not at all complicated, but doing it for the first time can be tricky. It took us two attempts to get the tents up due to the rods getting switched and one of the chords getting snapped. I have had previous experiences of setting up tents, but those were a while back and this was like a refresher course for me. 

Eventually, the tents were set, the resort staff brought in the firewood and we took out the wine. Food was prepared in the house and transported to our site (and it was actually pretty good). The camp site was now ready.

We proceeded to celebrate the achievement, and of course the birthday. There also happened to be a cake, which was ceremoniously lit up with candles (inside the nylon tent), cut, smeared and consumed.

It was a cool night; moonlit and starry. The sky was quite clear and streaks of cirrus clouds gave it a feathery texture. We stargazed for a while (with Google Sky Map for ready reference) and bragged about our knowledge on astronomy and other things.

We called it a night when the camp fire burned out.

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Next morning we woke up around 9 AM and started to wind up the camp. Packing up a tent is not nearly as exciting as setting it up. Trying to fit that thing in its minute bag is a pain, that goes for the sleeping bags too. We collected all the containers and the garbage, and cleaned up the place. However, the food left over from the previous night had vanished (by what we hoped were dogs, and not something bigger).

We had freshened up and had breakfast at the the mess. We got to interact with the caretaker of the place and his family. They were a cheerful lot and were from Assam and they also owned a couple of Labrador pups. Power cuts were a major problem there through out our stay, and we weren't able to charge our cell phones.

We left for Bangalore at 11 AM. the highway, as it turned out, is quite scenic during the day time, but I was not able to fully appreciate it. We had already traveled 200 km the previous day and would have completed 400 km on reaching Bangalore, all within 24 hours, and we were starting to get uncomfortable on the bikes. On top of all this, I had a plane to catch that evening.

And then it happened again, 100 km into the ride we all got separated again. This time we did not even plan a meeting point and it seemed that everyone's phone was discharged by now. So, I did what seemed logical in the situation, I stopped at tea shops at every major town which came in the way. But no one showed up anywhere. So, I decided to go straight to the point where everyone would have to eventually show up; the rental shop in Banashankari, from where we had picked up the tents.

I reached Banashankari at around 3.30 PM after loosing my way a couple of times and traveling at least 20 km more in that process. I sat in a Dominoes opposite the rental shop, charged my phone and called up one of the friends to declare my position. Apparently, they had already reached the place, and to my surprise all the three bikes showed up at the place within a window of 20 minutes. We concluded this trip with a late lunch that same Dominoes.

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After the lunch, I was launched into another, much grander journey; a pan North-India wedding-saga. And, it started with a race to the airport. I used all the my riding skills to negotiate with the ever-choked-up Bangalore traffic to reach home by 5:45 PM. Packed my luggage and boarded a taxi by 6:15. The driver then used all of his certified-taxi-driver-skills to get me to the airport by 7.15 PM, my flight was at 8.20. After all that had happened that day, I had actually reached on time. I sat in the plane and immediately dozed off and woke up just before I landed in Delhi.
 All this running around was but only a preface for what was to come in the next two week. That story continues in another post . . .

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  1. Hi,
    I am planning for next weekend...Can you tell me the name of the resort.

    1. Aura Valley Resort

  2. Hi,very nice blog..thanks for such a good post.i need visit good resorts nearby Bangalore so please help out in finding good resorts

  3. How much did they charge you to set up camp at their site?

  4. Awesome, very nice information updated and great post.

    We are one of the best resorts in chennai engaged in Resorts in yelagiri