We could have left on Saturday morning, but the trip was planned specially for those who work on Saturday, hence we started by Saturday evening. Starting from Tidel park and picking up people en-route, we finally left Koyambedu by 6.30 PM as against the targeted 5.30 PM. (This time all participants were on time, only vehicles came in late) Though it is just 220 kms from Chennai, the roads were bad (There’re more than one route to reach-I am not sure which one we took) and add to that we did a mistake of hiring a 16 seater Mahindra Tourister, which just couldn’t go at a decent speed on highways and moved at snail's pace, slowing the group further. (DO NOT RENT this vehicle for outstation travel-it comes cheaper than Force Traveler and takes more people, but is only suited for city rides and not highways) This, coupled with factors like having to stop for fuel, permits, taxes, confusion over the route etc made us reach our destination at an unearthly 2.30 AM,(8 hours for 220 kms or 27.5 kmph), outsmarting all provisions one might have kept for possible delays. But then, the forest department officials and guest house staff were very friendly. Even at that odd time, one forest department jeep escorted us to the guest house and the staff there quickly made provisions for extra beds etc, so that we could go to sleep without much delay. We saw the Tamil version of Telugu popular movie- Bommarillu on the way.
This guest house is operated by local people (under the banner of their community and with guidance from Forest department) and rates are pretty cheap. The Loghut (A one bedroom, elevated structure-ref pics) costs around Rs 400 per day and the Dormitory costs Rs 1000 per day (Can comfortably accommodate a group of 10-15 people with extra beds). There’re only 2 LogHuts and 2 dorms available, so better plan in advance. (I saw one more forest guest house near the temple, but that was a normal building-nothing special in any way. Tirupati is the nearest town if you want more options). The guest house campus is very good- a water stream flows next to it-anytime one can go for a dip or a swim, they have a deer as a pet (named Raja), which is naturally reluctant to come close to strangers, but will come near and readily accept food if offered. There is a hanging bridge on which one can go for a walk anytime. Over crowded population of monkeys is something you need to watch out for. Protect your belongings from being snatched away by them. We didn't spot any sort of animals during the trek but there were several boards on the way with paintings of various animals and birds, with messages related to forest and wildlife conservation.
After spending nearly 2 hours we started for a place 30 mins away where we would stop and have lunch. During this walk we spotted a camera man recording our walk. Our organizer enquired with a ‘director like looking’ person (Name-B.V.Ramana) on who are they and what they are doing. The conversation thus struck resulted eating up 30 minutes. We learnt that it was a local telugu devotional channel (Name: SV Bhakti Channel) owned by TTD (Tirupati Tirumala Devastanam) they were doing a documentary on Talakona and wanted to record few clippings of our organizer speaking about our experience in Talakona and all. It’s not every day that you get a chance to see yourself in a TV (never mind that channel is hitherto unheard of). I simply stood in the frame upon request along with my bag as they wanted more crowd, but others had gone far ahead and were in no mood to walk back all the way. [Related: Watch me in an ETV Kannada program] The recording went on for couple of minute and was okayed in the first shot. The director didn’t have an email address to offer-not sure how he operates without one.
When we finally finished shooting, subsequent conversation and declared pack-up, rest of the team had finished their lunch and was waiting. Next on the agenda was to visit some British Bungalow somewhere uphill, but I understand we had to stop and start return journey, as it was beyond 3.30PM and our objective was to return to base by 1730 hours. On the return journey a villager asked for some fever tablet, as someone is having high fever. Hema had some paracetamol and we gave him two tablets. He enquired us on the dosage and returned with a thankful eye. Just see how difficult life in these places can be. One may have to walk for miles before you could meet another human being-let alone basic facilities and luxuries. Hope his family member who was suffering from fever recovered fully.
Finally by 5.50-6 PM the first batch was back in the guest house. Few of those who reached early didn’t have the room keys and had to wait for others to come. Few took their own time to get ready keeping everyone waiting till then, we took off by 7 PM. Return journey took equal amount of time , with a stop for dinner at Tirupati and we reached Chennai (Koyambedu) by about 2 AM. Per head expense was around Rs 810, which I feel is reasonable.
Second photo courtesy: Bala. Other photos by author
CTC, me & Google groups * Tada * Parvathamale, Nagala & Nagari * Yelagiri * Binsar, Uttarakhand * Wayanad, Kerala * Skandagiri Bangalore * Chandragiri Fort
July 2010 Update: Revisited this place last weekend. For contact details of the forest department guest house and driving directions, check this post