The swollen feet, broken umbrella and numb fingers could not take it further, and hence we let it go, splash! We fell into a pool of water. It felt as if blocks of stones were being thrown at our heads, the sight was breathtaking but the moment we stood under the waterfall, we knew the waterfall was angry, very angry. Surrounded by large slippery rocks covered with green moss, the pool area was overflowing into the rocks and the forest, slowly transgressing its defined boundaries and we lay aghast at the sight of nothing but the milky white falls overpowering an entire forest.
All you could see was water gushing across forcefully above large rocky stones, creating pits deep enough to drown into eternity. “Do you think we will be able to return back, I cannot see anything but water”, said Brishti, trembling with excitement and fear as she held on tightly to Joicey. There were we, three trembling, frightened souls, neck deep in water battling the torrential rains, beneath the vexed Tada Waterfalls.
Who could have thought the weather would play such a game, and strive to make the trek, adventurous to the hilt. While we started from Chennai in the morning, we were welcomed by a sunny sky dotted with beautiful white clouds. After a week of heavy rains, we were in for a respite. The sight of dry roads never enthralled us as much as that day. It took us about three hours to reach Tada Village, the nearest junction to the trek. The Google maps could no longer guide us from there, and struggling between Telegu and Tamil speaking people, we reached the last human settlement near the forest department, Varadhya Palem. The quaint village with narrow dusty lanes, had hundreds of strong black buffaloes competing with usual traffic on the roads. Honking and bumping, we made our way to the forest department.
“There are no trekkers here today, you are the first ones”, said Paul, one of the forest department officials, while we changed into our trekking gear. The high iron gates with two marble lions perched on each of them, roared us into the lush green forest with narrow muddy road spiralling all the way to the hill above. The road had unusual trees bearing fruits we hardly see in the cities. The canopy of large trees gave us the much needed shade from the scorching sun. Isn't it hard to believe, that the canopy we used for shade also doubled up as natures raincoat when the rains poured heavily.
The hilly terrain was marked with dense thick forests on either with a faint sound of water, gushing forcefully into rocks. There was a point, when there were no indicators to lead us on but the sound of the waterfall descending into a nearby lake. We often sang songs or did sprint run ups to make the otherwise strenuous walk fun. “Can you listen to it, the echo, feels magical”, said Joicey as she kept on shouting her name and thought the mountains echoed it back, however we didn't.
After a walking a few kilometres, we chanced upon two elderly women who ran a small grocery shop. It was the first sight of any living being since we had started trekking. Exuberant us, we filled our bags with water bottles and some biscuits. We started walking again, but soon we stopped. Just after we crossed the shop, all we could see was a small lake filled with little brown fishes. The ground was dotted with golden coloured rocks, which could be clearly seen due to the clear cold waters. Soon a shrill voice called out to us from behind, “You need to cross this lake and the follow the narrow lane”, the sweet shop lady wasn’t late in guiding the lost souls.
There was a bridge above the lake, but sensing its dilapidated condition, we decided to cross it on foot. With our bags held above our heads, we started wading across the water; soon we were neck deep in chilled clear water. After struggling to keep our heads above the water, we crawled onto the land. We continued our trail, drenched and expecting more surprises on the way.
The skies had slowly started turning black with the grey clouds marching ahead of us. It would rain, but we just could not anticipate when. Slowly the roads got narrower midst thick dense forests. As we frantically searched for a direction board, a pack of butterflies greeted us. Something, I haven’t ever seen before. Around 20 butterflies, beautiful golden coloured with blue spots kept hovering around a small area. Brishti could not help herself from running around them and requested for quite a few pictures, perhaps the next Facebook profile picture.
We soon could hear the gushing falls clearly. Did we reach the waterfalls? Was the trek this easy? But being optimistic is sometimes the only option you are left with. Surely we did reach a water body, a dam amidst the forest. On one hand, the still clear green waters was inviting for you to jump into and swim away to glory but on the other side was where the water had started overflowing creating a mystical illusion of a rough gutsy waterfall. But the question, which loomed over was how do we cross the dam. Neither could we swim, thanks to our precious luggage, nor could we cross the falls area which was deep and marked with a rough flow.
But help wasn’t that far away, “Cross the dam by walking on the edge of it, but make sure you don’t slip on either side, just be steady”, the khaki clad forest officer was on his regular stroll. He wasn’t done, “Are you sure you wish to go ahead, as it is, the waterfall is overflowing and it might rain”, but after trekking so far just with the thought of plunging into the pool of water underneath the magnificent falls, going back wasn't even an option. As soon as we stepped onto the surface of the divider, we could feel the strong force of water, which kept pushing us to fall down with the overflowing dam water. Walking slowly and steadily, we adored the surroundings which were just out of an Enid Blyton novel, and the mighty rain started.
Geared with the weapons, pop opened three brightly coloured umbrellas held firmly by three shaky souls at the edge of a dam. There was a huge sigh of relief, when we reached the other side and as we looked back, we realized, this was something we could never do again, a stunt indeed. Ahead of us, were only narrow muddy lanes running through thick forest, and the only indicator was a few animal footsteps, presumably a cow, and there it was. A beautiful white cow with big brown spots all over. The animal was rare especially in India, especially the southern part of the country. Walking further, the rains started pouring heavily. The muddy lanes soon turned into clayish soil where our feet would sweep down a few inches with each step, making the walk difficult.
“Don’t go ahead, it’s very risky, you might not return tonight”, a forest officer came running towards us. He stopped for breath, and told us how the guard who was there at the falls has warned anyone from trekking further. But our defiant spirit could hardly bow down to the almighty nature, at least not yet. We continued walking together, but now close enough to brush our umbrellas against each other. After a short while, the narrow muddy stretch widened onto a bigger plain dotted with black granite idols and an ancient Siva Temple. Just beside the temple, there stood the forest officer smiling, “This is the point where you start walking along the waterfall, and I will come with you.” Perhaps he could gauge the veracity of the moment and knew that we would not be able to make it back.
Now, there were no more muddy stretches or deep puddles. In fact there were no lanes, only huge slippery rocks amidst thick forest, with the gushing water by your side. “This hurts, don’t touch the bark of the trees”, exclaimed Brishti. Most of the trees had tiny thorns all over, which made it all the more difficult to keep balance. After a little struggle, we reached what we would call the ‘Forest Crossroads’. There lay a stream of intense and roughly flowing water with small narrow ways on all the four sides. “Keep walking along the water, these lanes often deceives you” commanded our guiding angel.
This was the moment we realized, it’s time to take off our shoes. Our trekking shoes had lost the game of grip to the moss covered stones floating above deep pits of shimmery water. We resumed our journey, barefoot. Most of the time was spent in supporting each other to avoid a nasty fall and hurt ourselves, but the times we could actually look up to see the way ahead, we wondered, how mystical nature could be. The entire forest was drowned in the colours of the green flora and the white river flowing by. The frogs kept croaking as we jumped and stumbled to reach the falls.
It was long since we paid heed to our growing hunger pangs, so we decided to halt. There was huge rock above the flowing river which looked stable. All four of us perched atop the rock and unloaded one of our bags. The sight of biscuits and water was suddenly the most enjoyable thing at the moment, but just then I heard Brishti shout. She was about to fall and caught in war of strength with two monkeys. There she was trying to snatch the plastic away from the menacing apes who kept growling at us, until we had to give up. While the losers started walking ahead, the champions called out to more of their friends and enjoyed the delicious chocolate biscuits.
Soon we reached a point from where the road ahead seemed impossible. We were standing at the edge of a huge rock, but to reach the rocks ahead of us, either we need superman wings or legs of the gladiator. The gushing river had created a miniature waterfall between the two rocks, which made it all the more dangerous to jump ahead. But options were less and the mission was important. We soon discovered strong, long, air roots of trees hanging above us. Brishti being the lightest of us all, took the step first, and she flung across to the other end, held onto the natures rope. Thereafter, all of us took the same way, but we didn’t exactly have a fancy fall on the other end.
The forest department official was ahead of us, “Try to get inside this cave, and be careful of the small fall below, we have reached the falls”, and there were the words we three had been waiting for. Soon we had all the energy oozing out of us, as we tried to reach the cave. But the cave was at a height of eight feet with a small but rough fall at the edge of its entrance. The rains had started becoming intense with the drops hard enough to make you feel as if something was pricking us.
We slowly balanced ourselves on two rocks and attempted a slight jump to get inside the cave, but we fell and the fall was mighty deep. Struggling and grasping for breath we again reached out for the rock and managed to crawl inside the miniature waterfall and with help of a small but firm rock we got inside the cave.
Excited and a little injured we crouched inside the cave. By no means we could go ahead, the rains had intensified and it was wrecking havoc outside. "Our feet is bleeding, I guess thus jump took its toll" said Joicey l while we kept wondering how beautiful the interior of the cave was.
Marked with greyish, slippery rocks, it was cut unevenly at places creating a perfect arch above us, good enough for a nights halt. After giving our legs the much needed rest, we decided to venture out anyhow. As we stepped outside, we were left speechless. There it was the Tada waterfalls in all its glory and majesty showering all over the rocky terrain creating a fantastic pool of water which spilled over to the forest.
After wrapping our bags with a few raincoats and placing them beneath the cave, we were ready to be drenched. After reaching the edge of the waterfalls, we suddenly could no longer feel any fatigue. The chilly waters gushing above us was not only refreshing but hard enough to make us realize that as humans we are nothing compared to the might of the nature.
We let ourselves loose in the pool of green clear water where we could see our feet although it was several feet deep. "I am drinking some water, its sweet", and as Brishti quenched her thirst, we realized it was time to return. But the way back had no defined way. Even the rocks we had hooped and skipped on were no more visible. "This is what I feared, the forest will be submerged now..", the shivering voice of the forest department official jerked us out of the magical beauty of the falls.
While we charted our way, we fell, rolled over, attempted slippery jumps and while we hung onto the air roots, others climbed down held onto us. If we could manage to step on some dry land, it was often marred with broken glass bottles, reminding us of the adventures others might have experienced here, only if they could have disposed them off well.
By the time we waded through the angry river and made our way through the thick forests to reach the junction point where we saw the dam, the illusionary fear of it overflowing had gain the image of reality. We could no longer take the similar way back; the dam had over flown, making it extremely risky for us to cross it as the way before. Hence we turned back and took another route where we had to walk up a small mountain, which was presumably a shorter route albeit very difficult for our tired souls.
We did reach the base camp, although tired and worn out. After bidding adieu to Paul, our guiding angel, without whom this journey would not have been possible, we set out for our way back home. By the time we reached Varadhya Palem to board our bus back to Chennai, we could hardly move our feet around. As we made our way back to Chennai and looked outside the bus windows, it had started to rain heavily, again. But now we no longer had to crouch down, run or seek shelter beneath rocks, we could just sit and smile at each other, for we had accomplished a beautiful feat. This trek was not only refreshing and rejuvenating but it had lessons for us to learn, life lessons which taught us that you could battle any situation however adverse it is and experience its beauty, only of you held onto each other and we did, we shall strive to even further.