Trip to Venkatagiri and Talakona
We had a sudden plan of driving to Venkatagiri hills, do some minor trekking, if possible, spend the night camping there and return back the next day.
My friend Shrinidhi had booked a Ford Endeavour for rent and was interested in testing the machine in various conditions. We were just hoping that it should not turn out to be like the Tata Indica that we took for Horsley Hills! Thankfully the car was in excellent condition and had been driven only for about 40000 km. A perfect vehicle to drive on.
Early on the 24th July morning, four of us, Shrinidhi, Bharat, Dharani and me set out for Venkatagiri. At 4:00am in the morning, the NH5 that connects Chennai and Kolkata was the idea road to test the machine. Shrinidhi took to the wheels and our adventure started just ten minutes later when he tried to overtake a lorry. Another lorry which suddenly moved into the road from a side lane without any signal and was right in front of us as if blocking our way. Though he stepped on the brakes wildly, it was not going to help. Without any other option we had to move further right squeezing the car between the lorry and the divider, partly jumping over the divider, but not fully ramming against it.
It was indeed a close shave! Shrinidhi being the more experienced driver was really able to manage it. Even after that we were still testing the capacity of the car and within minutes we touched 150km/h. The drive was just smooth beyond this point. We drove for about 30 minutes and stopped by after crossing the junction to Tada. We checked if there was any damage to the vehicle and were extremely surprised to see that there was absolutely no damage, not even a scratch that you would notice. We were quite happy that the car has escaped without even a scratch. Less did we know what was in store for us later on!
We had planned to reach the base of Venkatagiri and had planned to off-road the powerful SUV into the terrain and see how far we can get so our hike to the temple at the base of the hills does not take too much of time. We were well ahead of schedule and by around 7:00am we reached the Venkatagiri town and stopped just outside the railway station to quick breakfast.
About 15 minutes later we were back on our way heading to the foot hills. After a drive for another 1 hour or so in the village road, we came to a place from where we can either drive through a very narrow cement road that will some distance into the forest and from there we can walk to the temple and the falls behind. There was another track which cannot be used by normal vehicles. Only tractors were used on this trail by the villagers to collect twigs and other crops. Shrinidhi decided to take this trail as he really wanted to test the power of the vehicle in such a terrain. We took the direction from a villager who was going on this way to another settlement somewhere in the periphery of the forest. He informed us that only tractors used to go in this trail and cars usually cannot take that route and suggested it would be better to take the cement road. But since Shrinidhi was confident that he could take the SUV in the trail, we decided to proceed further. We were told that we can drive up around 6km and from there we will have to walk about 4km to reach the temple. The villager also offered to accompany us so he can show the path. It was really not any difficult to follow a single trail, but occasionally there were some similar branches that could mislead a stranger to that place.
Once we took the vehicle into the trail all we could do was to travel at a speed of 20km/h due to the very rough and narrow trail. There was thick growth of bushes on either side that kept scratching the vehicle. We had to slow down further considerable as we were not even able to maintain the speed of 20 km/h. We had to get down in turns of clear off boulders, push away bushes that were too thick for the vehicle etc. There were also a few other people who were walking to the forest along with their cows and bulls to graze it and collect twigs. They too helped us clear the bushes by cutting of some bushes with their sickles.
We did not notice the time until we came to a spot where Shrinidhi decided that he cannot take the car any further. The villager did inform us that it is possible to take it further, but Shrinidhi was extremely upset that the shiny new car had become a scratchy old vehicle. So he decided that we stop the car in a small clearing among the bushes and walk from there. He also decided to stay with the car and suggested that we return back after exploring the place so we can decide on some other place to go. He was really upset by the condition of the car now and did not want to stay there for the night as we had originally planned.
I, Bharat and Dharani started to walk from that point and villager showed us the way. He came with us for about five minutes and showed us the way to continue. He had to take a detour to the right to go to the village where he was originally headed to. Another village that was apparently going to the forest for collection twigs showed us the way to some extent but he could not keep up with us due to his disability. He just showed us the path and asked us to proceed straight in the trail. The path we took was stream which dries up during summer and gets water during the monsoon. Since the monsoon has still not completely set in, we only had dry pebbles to negotiate with. Occasionally there were some boulders and rocks.
After walking for about 10 minutes the trail divided into 2 and we were just wondering which one to take. There was absolutely no one to ask for. Then 2 young fellows came to our rescue. They showed us the path and lead us in the correct trail which would lead us to the temple. They were young, energetic and very eager to help. They did not communicate much but it was quite obvious from their looks that they are very friendly and helpful. We walked along following them in the trail, stopping every now and then to take photographs. Of course there was nothing for landscape photography as the trail was completely covered with thick bushes and trees. But I was able to do quite a lot of macro photography with my Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens – my mission accomplished.
The guides were thorough professionals and knew the place in and out. Probably this is where they were born and brought up (or being brought up). They would lead well ahead of us and wait for us to join. If we do not catch up with them for any reason (mainly due to photographing), one would return for us to ensure we are on track and safe and wait upon us. They would also take turns to disappear into the bushes to look and listen for any possible intruders and join back in the trail ahead of us. We walked like this for about 1.5 hours to reach the temple. When we came to temple our new friends just sat under a big peepal tree and waited for us to explore.
The temple was a small, old one which looked abandoned though there were traces of worship being done very occasionally. We spent a few minutes there and decided to check out the falls a few feet behind the temple. The guides accompanied us there too. The falls was nothing but a trickle now but we know that it can turn into a very big one during the monsoon. There were every traces of a overflow during the rains. I just recollected what happened, last monsoon, to a small stream when it rained for a few hours!
We were there only for a few minutes and the time was already about 11:45am. We decided to head back to the car. With our new friends guiding us all the way just like they lead us here, we walked a bit fast this time to make sure we do not waste too much of time. I felt that we owed a great deal to these young friends of ours. They had lead us all the way to the temple and back to where we took part with the villager. We came to the place where the first villager departed and the guides also headed in the direction the villager went. We had to take the other diversion to reach our cars. It was about 1:00pm when were reached this spot and I thought our friends would also be hungry just as we were.
Just to break the suspense here, our guides were 2 dogs from the village and it was they who lead us all the way to the temple and back safely! I just saw there was a stream just ahead in the direction the dogs went and they were playing there while a couple of people were cooking something on the other side of the shallow stream. So I asked Bharat to go to the car and bring some biscuits so we can feed them. I and Dharani waited there for Bharat to return with biscuits that we had in the car and fed them. They were extremely happy and did not want us to depart, but we had to leave…
From there we proceed on to the Venkatagiri town, had lunch and proceeded to Chandragiri Fort which was in our agenda last time but could not make it. This is an old fort, just before Tirupathi, dating back about 500 to 600 years. By the time we reached there it was about 4:30pm and the visitor’s time to the museum there ends by 5:00pm. We took a quick tour of the museum which had ancient articles, documents, armors etc. We also spent sometime in the lawns of the fort taking some photographs. I used this opportunity to further test the Sigma lens.
We then were a bit stuck on what to do next, whether to return back to Chennai or spend the night somewhere, go to some other place in the morning and return back the next evening. We decided that we would further explore.
We headed to Tirupathi to look for some accommodation, but we lost the way somehow due to misdirection from people and maddening traffic in a tiny town. We went just outside Tirupathi and found a very small hotel, but a tidy one. We decided to stay there for the night. It was already about 7 and there is not much that we are anyway going to do there. We had dinner there itself and stayed there for the night.
The next morning we got ready by 8:30am, had breakfast and proceeded to Talakona. This is another falls which is further 58 km from Tirupathi. Once again there was not much of water in the falls as the monsoon has really not set in. There were more tourists than the water. So we know what the state of the water would be. So deciding against getting into the water, we proceeded further up the falls trekking all the way to the top of that hill. I wish I get a chance to come to this place during monsoon or immediately after. Though it was only about 1000ft, the climb was quite steep and difficult in my standards. It took about 1 hour to reach the top with 2 breaks in between to catch our breath. Once we reached the top, there was a trail which could possibly reach directly to the top of the water falls. We followed that path, but found there were quite a few diversions and were completely overgrown by bushes and trees. So we decided not to risk getting lost without a guide and traced back.
We had lunch in the AP tourism and forest guest house near the falls. They had put a canopy (a hanging bridge of a few meters) which is supposed to give a view of the forest, but I got a feeling that it is just a show piece as nothing significant is viewed by walking in that. We spend a few minutes there and started back to Chennai by around 2:30pm. The return back was without any interesting or ‘adventurous’ incidents. We just stopped once in between to have some snack and reached Chennai by around 7:00pm in the evening.