This is a short travelogue of a one-day trek to Tada Falls near Chennai, Tamil Nadu (India) in 2017. I was accompanied by three others who were my close friends and batchmates from the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai.
I turned my face, beaming with joy as I almost squealed in excitement, “Look, I managed to catch a fish!” But before I could complete the sentence or attract the attention of others to my little act of pride, the small fish escaped through the fringes of the dry leaf.
Aritry refused to offer her bandana to let me dip it in the water to catch a fish, so I decided to try with a dry leaf instead when I noticed the little creatures swimming in glory. I didn’t want to trap those creatures; I just wanted to have a closer look at them before I let them go. The fishes wiggled their tiny tails and moved to and fro, in a cyclic motion, never crossing each other’s way. They seemed to be in a hurry; a hurry without an apparent purpose. And maybe, so were we!
Pseudo-fishing was not exactly the plan when the four of us set forth on a trek to Ubbalamdugu Falls, commonly called the Tada Falls, situated in the Chitoor district lying on the boundaries separating Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Truth be told, we didn’t have a purpose at all, like those tiny little black fishes which swam around the same place.
I was halfway through a dream when the alarm woke me up. It was 6.00 am and we were scheduled to leave our ACJ hostel in Taramani, Chennai at 6.30am. Aditya, Ridhima, Aritry and me- four friends set out on a mini-adventure of our own. Aritry had packed few cheese sandwiches to satisfy our gluttony as she knew that travelling with three foodies meant that she could use her cooking skills to the fullest. But sandwiches were not enough because when we got down at Koyambedu bus station at 7.30am, our first instinct led us to a food stall where we packed a wholesome lunch for us which would be required given that our bodies would strain.
With the intention to experience fun, we boarded the bus from Koyambedu with backpacks containing essentials, water bottles and a lot of food. The bus would drop us at Varadayya Palem, the last village on the way to Tada falls. It took us three long hours until we got off the bus. Three hours of countryside, lush green dotting the avenues passed through the window. The passing of these picturesque scenes through vehicle windows have always given me a sense of time passing without giving us much scope to absorb its full essence.
On reaching the village, we took an auto-rickshaw which drove us amid another stretch of passing sceneries and time, except for this time the road became quite bumpy after a point. I could physically sense that the pollution was gradually eroding giving way to fresh air which soothed my lungs. We halted at the forest department check-post where we got our permits and the gates were opened to mark the beginning of our journey.
The auto-rickshaw danced around the crooked red-soil path until Ridhima craned her neck out of the vehicle and shouted in euphoria, “There it is, that’s the hill we will be climbing today!”
Suddenly, everybody sprang up in their seats and a fresh stream of energy ran through our bodies! The ride finally ended as the vehicle was parked at the base camp, beyond which no wheels are permitted.
With glistening eyes and broad smiles, we took our first steps of the 10km walk uphill. There was a little stream with a green metal bridge on it and on crossing it, we reached an area of calm water with an overhanging tree. Little chunks of rocks speckled the water which had a scenic reflection and screeching monkeys sprawled here and there.
We saw a lot of these rocks, flowing water and monkeys on our way up, only there were no bridges to help us cross them!
The sun was scorching and no amount of sun-screen could prevent us from getting tanned. When we reached the next stagnant water, we had to take off our shoes to cross the stream. As I set my first foot under the water, I realized that what came across as a hue of beautiful green through the crystal clear water was going to make it difficult for us. It was moss and it was slippery. We held our hands to avoid falling and we made it through.
We halted for lunch at a relatively flat rock. Gulping it down in minutes, we moved forward with rejuvenated spirit. We crossed stony paths with peeping shrubs and trees canopying over our heads.
After a point, it was only boulders. We looked for cracks and notches in them to lock our toes, grab another hold with our fingers and pull our bodies up to cross the boulders. The boulders became more difficult as we went up. Other people we met on our way, some locals and tourists, advised us not to go farther due to the impending danger but we kept going forward with an undying enthusiasm. We were in a hurry to reach our destination; in a hurry to escape something we didn’t quite seem to know.
When the boulders started becoming almost four-five times our sizes, our bodies began to exhaust. We paused in a rocky upstream of the waterfall which created a natural shelter for tired tourists. It seemed to form a canopy of rocks overcrowded with chattering monkeys around a black rocky flat surface beside which the stream ran.
The water had a slight current here and it was here that I carried out my pseudo-fishing! The water-bed was coloured in moss and red algae, with little black fish swimming as the gleaming rays of the sun shone on them. I put my bare feet under the water and let the mild current wash away the fatigue.
When the four of us started playing around that place, sprinkling water at each other and trying out our pseudo-fishing activities, it struck me that these little pleasures of life are the ones which keep us alive. It was these meaningless activities, trying to do things just for the joy of it, which brought out the broadest smiles in our faces.
Our trip suddenly had a purpose. At the age of 23, amid redundant movements and pointless competition, we found our solace in these child-like meaningless endeavours.
It all made sense now! Since morning, we were in a hurry to escape the banal, the ubiquitous surrounding us and most importantly the severity of a decadent society.
As dawn slowly settled on the horizon, we looked up at the sky- the four of us sitting in a line by the stream. We knew it was time for us to retreat, leaving behind the little pleasures. On our way back, Ridhima suddenly ran up a steep road which ran perpendicular to the main path. We hurriedly followed behind. On reaching the top, we could only see small hills overlapping each other. We stood at the jagged end of the rocks and Aditya signaled… one, two, three… “Freedom”- the four of us screamed in our loudest voices. Freedom hit us back as it echoed through the hills!