Chennai Trekkers’ Club (CTC) is an adventure group founded by Peter Van Geit which conducts trekking expeditions for its members, predominantly in South Indian hills. CTC Google group has about 2000 members and it has successfully conducted hundreds of trek so far, with Peter and several core members volunteering their time and expertise to organize treks at various places. Usually every trek will have some experienced trekkers, few who’re familiar with the terrain, few knowing local lingo with the rest being amateur trekkers. Cost of a trek will be very low, due to several factors (High number of participants, members bring their own vehicles, night is spent using sleeping mats and bags, organizers do not charge for their service etc). I’ve done about 9 treks with CTC in past 6-7 months and all were very good experiences. [Read: Skandagiri * Yelagiri * Talakona * Nagari, Nagala and Parvatamalai * Tada * Ramnagaram/Antaragange * Venkatagiri *]
Recently an army of 59 people from CTC set out to explore Venkateshwara Hills in AP, in 16 vehicles-cars and bikes. It was a 3 day excursion from Jan 24 to Jan 26. Fortunately or unfortunately I had not joined this and only came to know the details later.
Seems they entered the forest, parked the vehicles and set out on their 3 day trekking activity, camping in between inside the forest and finally returned to mainland on Day 3. Upon their return, at a Dhabha, they spotted a newspaper sporting pictures of their vehicles, with a heading “ఆ వాహనాలు ఏవరిలి?-Whose vehicles are these?” (Refer Image- it reads: Whose vehicles are these? 16 vehicles found in suspicious manner, Forest officials searching for owners of these vehicles which belong to unknown people from Tamil Nadu) Incidentally, forest guards who spotted these bikes and cars abandoned (i.e. left without any caretaker) inside the forest failed to identify its owners and when no one returned to claim them for days, suspected something fishy might be going on inside the forest. These abandoned outstation vehicles bearing TN registrations caught media attention and made into headlines of Telugu media. On Day 3 when vehicle owners, fully tired due to 3 days of nonstop trekking in the forest, were promptly arrested by the police. Seems CTC organizers had taken permission over phone from a forest official, but for a different route.
So the entire group, which included several women and few foreign nationals went to police station and upon hours of talking with police officials, explaining who they are, what they do, why they came and so on, finally they were released, only to have another round of negotiations at the forest office, wherein officials wanted to confiscate the cameras and vehicles. At last all were released, after paying a fine of Rs 1000 per head for illegal entry into reserve forest.(Foreign nationals had to pay even more) Thankfully, presence of media in full force (who interviewed several CTC members) prevented any under the table activity or third degree treatment.
It should have been a lifetime experience for everyone involved- to go for a trekking and get branded as smugglers or thieves and getting arrested, at least for the moment. For good or bad I missed it. Read more about this trek at CTC blog (encounter with police part at the end of the post).
Few simple tips/lesions learnt:
- Take prior permission from forest department, if in doubt whether permission is needed or not check with locals/forest department.
- Have a local as a guide or at least have few people familiar with local lingo
- Spend some time with the local people and make them understand who you are and why you’ve come here
- Have required documents handy (Identity proofs, vehicle documents, border fee, toll fee etc)
- Consider having a person/additional driver who will stay with the vehicles when you’re away.
- Avoid parking in isolated areas-part in compound of a local person etc where feasible
It is a free country and one should have the freedom to go anywhere. But given the issues such as Naxalites and terrorists, we can't blame police either.
Photo by Ravi S Ghosh, Information from CTC blog. Translation by self.