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Old 9th September 2010, 19:56   #1
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Default Sharavathy Valley OTR

Yes, I know I was supposed to post this OTR report long back. In fact, it has been so long, people have stopped asking me about it. I have heard it before, but never thought it would happen to an amateur writer like me. I was suffering from writerís block after finishing the EXAMM-AKC OTR report. Despite my busy schedule in the past month, I did try to start the report. But I couldnít write more than a paragraph in each attempt. Finally I seem to have overcome it, so here goes.

When M P Sreenivas originally proposed this event in Jeep Thrills, I was very tempted to attend. But I was supposed to be in Bangalore with my family that weekend, so I regretfully decided to stay out. My personal offroad gear (gum boots, rain coat, primary dSLR, backpack) was in still in Bangalore after attending the EXAMM-AKC event. Since I was to take delivery of the Jeep, I left for Coorg without my offroad gear, collected the Jeep and drove to Manipal. It wasnít exactly a smooth operation, that story can be followed here: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/4x4-ve...ml#post1989929 (Mahindra CJ340 joins Team-BHP family)

However, with only 3-4 days to go, the situation changed and I was not required to go back that weekend. That means I could attend the Sharavathy event, so I quickly called Sreeni and reserved the place. Later even Sachin decided to join up with his newly rebuilt formerly unserviceable Gypsy.
Initially it was not very clear where we were supposed to meet up with the group from Bangalore. At first it was supposed to be at Sagara, however after discussing the route with Sreeni, we decided to meet up at Biligaru at around 10:30AM, and then continue towards Kannur, our final destination. While the Bangalore folks will be driving up whole night and reach this place, Sachin and I had to leave only at 7AM to make the rendezvous.

As I have mentioned before, I had left my personal offroad gear still in Bangalore. That means I had to manage with whatever I had in Manipal.

Raincoat: I quickly bought a duckback raincoat in Udupi.
Boots: I did have a pair of unused caterpillar steel toed boots to suit the occasion.
Backpack: I found my sonís old duckback school bag and thoroughly washed it.
Camera: My backup dSLR, the good old Olympus E-500 with 14-54mm lens. I knew Iíll miss the wide angle of 12-60mm, and the IS and low-light ability of my E-3.

Then there was the question of quickly preparing the newly rebuilt Jeep for the offroad trip. I left most of the hard work to my office handyman/electrician. I did the design and direction, he did the fixing. Most importantly, we did the fixing of the winch, rubber flooring and lockable trunk. This time the trunk was bolted to the floor so that it doesnít move back and forth. It was Friday night by the time everything got fixed.

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I met Sachin at Santekatte (on NH-17) at about 7:15AM and we resumed our trip without a delay. An hour later we were at Byndoor having breakfast. Unlike Sachin I had not eaten anything, and was looking forward to a good breakfast. So I had idli-vada followed by Masala Doa and tea. At first Sachin was reluctant for such a heavy breakfast, but he finally relented and ate the same combo. Little did we know that we wonít get a bite for the next 12 hoursÖ

Now, something about the route. Generally, the route from Udupi to Jog Falls is via Udupi-Kundapur-Bhatkal-Murdeshwara-Honnavara, all this on NH-17 and then you turn right at Honnavara towards Jog falls. As the official navigator of our Udupi team, I had discovered a shorter route after going through google map.

Udupi, Karnataka to Kargal, Karnataka - Google Maps

The rendezvous point Biligaru fell somewhere in the route. That means we barely had 130Kms to reach to the destination. However, finding that turn before Bhatkal was not easy and we didnít want to overshoot it. Asking directions about the turn was not easy. Generally people donít want to suggest less trodden path, to extent that they will deny such a road exists. But we insisted it exists and mentioned the town of Kogar and Biligaru that are located on this road. Finally someone was able to confirm the direction and we managed to turn at the right place.

At first the road was in excellent condition, with very little or no traffic. But then it got a little bad and it was heavily twisting too.

At a break.

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I knew we were falling behind schedule. Knowing Sreeniís adherence to punctuality, I was getting concerned whether they will continue without us. Keep in mind that our Airtel mobile phones were useless in these parts. I didnít know where they were and there was no way to inform them about our delayed arrival.

Yet another stop, this time for photographing the waterfall. There are numerous waterfalls in this route.

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Finally we reached Biligaru at 10:50AM (20 minutes late) and found nobody waiting for us. After a little panic, we checked with the locals whether there is another way to Kannur. The locals say no, this is the only entrance to Kannur. Did a bunch of Jeeps pass by in the last hour, they say no. I was finally convinced that we made it to the rendezvous point first.

The local grocery store, and it seemed to be the only shop in the village, had a pay phone. So I called the wife, updated our status and told her not to expect me to be available on mobile network for the next day or so. Then I called Sreeni and found a very frustrated Sreeni on the other side. Everybody was taking their own sweet time he says and then he adds that Jammy too has come. Now, that changes everything. We were no more on Sreeniís clock, but on Jammy Time or JT. Note it is JT and JST, for using the word Standard in Jammy Time would be absurd. So, when will you guys reach hereÖ Oh, about 45 minutes to 2 hours. Hmm, that just about matches with JT.

At first we didnít have any boring moments. Quite a few locals were very fascinated by the newly rebuilt CJ340 and were circling it around in open admiration. Somehow they didnít take any fancy to the Gypsy. They wanted to know where we are going with these kind vehicles, why we are going, etc. The winch obviously attracted lots of queries and they all declared that this Jeep can go anywhere in their backyard. I hoped so.

Then we sat outside a small closed down shop and started growing old. We did have shelter from the rain and it rained a few times, very hard too. We talked about all kind of topics while continuing to grow old.

An hour later couple of people came to us asking whether we had the permit to visit Kannur hills. Apparently they were forest officials, and wanted to make sure we had all the legal paperwork. Damn, word gets around so fast in these parts. May be not so fast, we were already here for a century, at least it felt like it. Anyway, I told them that our host has all the necessary permits and they are yet to show up. They finally left saying next time donít forget to carry the permits.

Then the school closed and out came lot of students on the road. Again, winch equipped Jeep was the focal point of their interest. So I decided to go pick up the camera from the Jeep to shoot some photos.

The students finally dispersed.

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It rained, again.

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The rain stopped, again.

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Finally at around 1:30PM, we hear the buzz of multiple diesel engines. The troopers are finally here. There were only 4 vehicles, Jammy in a green MM540, Sreeni in his green Armada, Anand a.k.a Haryali a.k.a Grace in his Mahindra pickup which resembled a Katte Kiruba (Hyena), and an unexpected Tempo traveller.

Now what is this tempo traveller business, will it be going offroad? These were friends of Sreeni, a large group of family friends including many kids below 10 and even 5 years of age. Our local host and trip director was Nidhi Tiwari a.k.a Lakshmi Salgame. The name did ring a bell for me, although I had never met her before. I had seen her in earlier photographs of my Jeep.

You can see her driving a Jeep, which eventually became my Jeep.

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Yup, she used to drive this Jeep in deep jungles when it was still Jammyís Jeep. So it was fun meeting her and showing the current avatar of the same Jeep.

First agenda was to drive back in the way we came, to Bhimeshwara. So Jammy gets on my passenger seat (Nidhi is driving his Jeep) and we drive off towards Bhimeshwara in heavily lashing rain. Jammy is amazed at the fury of coastal rain, for me it is everyday/every year affair. The low speed on the wiper stops working, I turn on the high speed. The armature is wet, says Jammy. But the low speed hasnít worked since then. Well, it is a Jeep thing.
We finally reach Bhimeshwara after a while and it is time to switch to 4WD.

The entrance to Bhimeshwara, Dwarak is excited.

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Here is the proof for the low traffic on this road, we had parked right on the road and were not disturbed.

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All the hustle-bustle is about getting all the tempo traveller passengers into the five 4WD vehicles.

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So that was the idea. Get all the TT passengers into the available 4Wd vehicles. Being a two-seater Jeeper, I wondered whether that is possible. Sreeni asks Sachin how many passengers he can take and Sachin says Six! And yours truly can only say one! Soon, all passengers were accommodated leaving the TT on the road.

For me this was a moment of epiphany. It basically showed me the weakness of CJ340 when it comes to accommodating passengers, let alone in comfort. It simply makes a case for a family friendly offroader.

I got one passenger namely Vikram, who owns an ANHC and has never, sat inside a Jeep before, let alone go offroad. Sorry, no photographs of offroading as I was driving. This was a very muddy/slippery terrain, but we had clear instructions from Sreeni to stay in 4L since he didnít want the terrain damaged by excess sliding and revving. After about 15 minutes of trail driving, we reach a water crossing.

Our host gets into the water to check the level before planning the crossing.

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Then she describes the path one has to take to cross the stream.

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Now, Nidhi is a tall lady and if the water comes to her waist, we are talking serious height here. The current is also very strong. If you get pushed to the left even by couple feet, you will get sucked into the rocky terrain and recovery would be very difficult.

As the offroad drivers discuss the possibilities and the risk, the passengers are baffled at us for even considering driving through the raging water. Finally we decide not to try the crossing.

So what is the alternative? WalkÖ oh yeah, I hear it is known as trekking. But we are offroaders, we donít trek. But there is no choice unless you want to miss Bhimeshwara. Since it was my first time here, I decide to join up.

The trekking starts on a series of very slippery rocks, and then on to a wooden suspension bridge.

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It was scary enough for the adults, but how to take the kids across? The hosts carried them across.

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Haryali followed by Dwarak crossing the bridge. Yes, there is a thin wire on the side for balancing purpose.

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While the bridge is wide enough, what makes it scary is the fast current under the bridge. It can take you away in no time.

After that we walked leisurely, in the kind of silence only walking can provide. Jeepers might call it eerie silence since even diesel engines canít be heard.

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Then we came across this fallen tree.

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Naturally, we all commented that even if we had crossed the stream, we would have been stopped cold right here. Little did we know what we would achieve by the end of the day.

Some more walking and watching.

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Water under the bridge

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I donít know how to describe the wonderful water dance I witnessed here.

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To be continued
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Old 10th September 2010, 01:30   #2
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What came next was a steep climb on some extremely slippery rocky steps.

What you see here is the first flight of steps.

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One has to be very careful climbing these. One careless move can leave you slipping away.

The next flight of steps was next to a water fall.

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Finally reached a temple that is built almost under a water fall.

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Notice the water from the falls falling right inside the temple.

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I didnít even bother trying to shoot the water fall from this point. There was no way to do it without all the water falling on the lens. Besides, this camera is not waterproof unlike my primary gear.

Now, getting down was easier said than done. The chances of slipping were too high. In fact I slipped right at the top while trying to help another person get down. But I didnít fall as I could recover my balance after slipping 1 step down. My shoe has mud terrain tracks, but the buttery smooth algae covered rocks were unforgiving. But I reached down the steps without any more incidences.

Generally I have very good balance thanks to long martial arts practice. But there is a flip side to it. It also makes you overconfident sometimes. After getting down the steps, I continued down the rocky trail while talking to haryali. I was walking a little faster to keep up with the long strides of giant haryali. As a result I slipped two more times, each time managed to avoid falling on my butt, thank god for small mercies. In other words, this was one slippery slimy place.

But this unexpected trek was a treat for the eyes. I actually told Nidhi that this is a ridiculous place, it makes me pull out the camera every time I take a step after putting the camera back in the bag.

We make it back into the Jeeps, take a U-turn, which was a major task by itself since there was only place to do it. Then we get back to Biligaru, continue towards Kannur. By this time it is already 5PM and we havenít had any lunch.

The next agenda was simple. We go to Nidhiís home (stay) for lunch. But the way to Nidhiís home is again a 4WD trail.

At the entrance of 4WD trail.

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All the drivers are sharing a light moment.

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After couple of Kms, we come across a fallen tree. It is not a big tree, but still needs some effort.

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Sreeni says every bodied person should get out and help. I go around every Jeep asking people to help while carrying an umbrella. Most are not in the mood to get out thanks to the rain. Eventually everybody realizes there is no choice if they have to eat.

Nidhi and Sreeni direct as well as lead the ďClear the TreeĒ operations. I try to do both clearing and shooting at the same time.

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And it is done. Both Nidhi and Sreeni are checking for leeches on their legs. This is a normal thing here.

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And then we continue until we stop again.

What is it this time? Damn, another fallen tree.

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Holy cow, this is a big one, with too many branches.

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The tree was at least 50ft long and the main trunk was 2ft thick in diameter. I figured thatís that. It was already 6PM. This is not something we can push aside, not even with all the people we had with us.

Then I see a curious spectacle. Sreeni pulls out an astonishing tool out of his jeep. I have seen all kind fancy equipments carried by Jeepers, but none like this. I finally understood why Sreeni is fondly called as Jungle Uncle by all the offroaders. He drives around so frequently in the jungle, he needs to carry this to cut across fallen trees. Sreeniís wife nonchalantly comments that it is a common affair.

See what Sreeni drags out of his Jeep. Want that in your Jeep?

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Then he decides where to start sawing.

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He starts sawing with the help of a local.

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Meanwhile, all the guests are asked to continue towards the home stay for lunch. All the drivers except for Sreeni and Sachin leave, and I too started off. Those who were planning to come back left their luggage in the Jeeps. Then I looked back and decide this is where all the fun is and by the time I come back from lunch, it may be all over. So I too stayed back. Among the ladies, only Sreeniís wife stays back, but mostly in the Jeep to escape the wrath of leeches and rain.

Just then Sreeni discovers that the tree branch he was cutting has sagged down and bitten the saw and saw cannot be moved or removed. First they try to use a tyre jack between the branches to lift the branch and make it release the saw. As that experiment fails, I suggest using the hi-lift jack. Since only I had it, I go get my hi-lift jack and we apply it at various points to move the branch to release the saw. This is the first time I am using my hi-lift jack on field, and it was being used on a tree. Finally we reach a point where even that is not working. But then somehow the saw gets released.

After an hour of effort, Sreeni finally realizes the futility of the exercise. It is already 7PM. We didnít have all the right tools nor the expertise to clear such a big tree. We are told to pick up our luggage and walk to the home stay. I was extremely disappointed since I was hoping to clear the tree and drive all the way to home stay instead of trekking.

As I lock down the Jeep for the night and walk towards the tree with the luggage, I see a sudden change in mood. I see couple extra faces and they are just going tat-tat-tat-tat.. at the tree with a small axe and sickle. Ah! The missing piece.

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The reason why we were not making much progress was because we only had the tool (saw) to cut the big branches. But we didnít have anything to cut the small and tiny branches that were blocking our access to the bigger branches. For that you need a small axe and even smaller sickle.

Pardon the not so sharp photographs, the light was bad, my camera has neither IS nor a good low light ability. I was having trouble locking the auto focus.

Finally the access to all the bigger branches has been made, we can see them now.

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Sreeni along with the pro get to work again with the saw.

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Now all the smaller branches have been cut, only the main trunk remains. Clearing the branches.

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Meanwhile we have been getting bitten by leeches in every exposed part of the body. In fact, some of us had just given up looking for them.

After this it became too dark to take photographs. But we continued to work. The main trunk was cut in two places. These two workers are used to clearing trees like this on a weekly basis in monsoon, so they knew exactly what to do at every stage.

As they cut the main trunk on both side, the 8ft long and 2ft thick wooden log fell right on the road. I was wondering how they will move it out of the road. I was ready to suggest using the winch to pull it off the road. But the workers suddenly went to the side of the road and started making two long poles from the branches. And they used it as a fulcrum and two of them rolled the log, which surely weighed more than a ton, over the side in less than 2 minutes.

Wow, I had learned so much about how to clear a massive tree off the road in just less than an hour.

We still had couple of branches to go on the side. By now the light was completely out. But, I had massive search light in my jeep which had a really long and power. I put that to work. The two workers were really thrilled to get such bright light to continue their work, and soon were done cutting all the branches. We soon cleared all the debris and the path was once again open.

However, the first and last Jeeps were locked and the drivers had gone to the home stay. And they had not come back. But the first Jeep was a MM540 with soft top. So we could just crawl in from behind and unlock it. Then I got in, move it out of the way in neutral. While doing that, I recalled with amusement that such a keyless act cannot be done on my Jeep. I have a steering lock as well as gearshift lock.

Once the MM540 was out of the way, Sreeni, myself and Sachin drove through the cut branches and continued towards the home stay. And then we stop.

Another fallen tree.

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But this time, the tree was so small, we just scoffed at it. The workers again ran forward and cleared it away in less than 10 minutes.

We continued further, hoping and praying there wouldnít be anymore fallen trees. It wasnít, but something else was there, something worse.
We finally came to a stop at a house, which is one of the rooms for the night. We could settle down for the night, but the food was at another house. Can we drive all the way? they say no, there is a stream crossing again, which is not passable. We had many luggages belonging to people who had gone earlier. Will they come back to the parking spot to collect the luggage? The answer was no, they are not in the condition to come back. Now, I was a little miffed at that statement. What is such a condition that stops them from coming back to collect their luggage? Anyway, the workers are asked to collect all the additional luggage and we set off towards the home stay in total darkness. Some of us had torches and could see what is just ahead of us. But in reality we had no idea about the trek we were about to do.

Oh god, we had to walk through extremely narrow slippery slimy mud trails, climb hills, descend hills, and generally lost all sense of time and direction. We must have walked for 30-45 minutes in a very treacherous trek in the darkness. By this time Sachin and I hadnít eaten for more than 12 hours, and I was feeling delirious due to fatigue and all the activities on empty stomach.
Then we come across a stream crossing, the crossing is over a tree trunk that has fallen across the stream. In the tiny pen torch I have, I could only see the beginning of the tree bridge and nothing beyond. And there is no wire to hold on the side. It feels like the leap of faith scene in Indiana Jones and Last Crusade movie. I had a heavy bag on the back and a heavy dSLR bag hanging by the side, and thanks to the fatigue, my usual sense of superior balance just vanished at that scene. I still donít know how I crossed it in that state of mind. Only the sound of swift current of water passing under the tree bridge kept me alert. BTW, it was a pretty long bridge, almost 40-50ft long.

Let me cut to chase and show how long was that bridge. These are the photos from the next day.

This is the first part of the bridge that is over the stream.

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This is the second part that is not over the water, still it is deep on either side.

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After crossing this scary bridge, we continued further and crossed multiple houses and were finally led to the home stay. By this time I was dead tired and was ready to just rollover and sleep. But, I was completely wet down to the innerwear. First we removed our shoes and dumped the backpacks, and had a quick wash in piping hot water (firewood heated) in a very traditional bathroom.

By now I had understood why our friends were in no condition to come back to collect their luggage. Can you imagine the to and fro trip in the foot terrain we just covered? Iíd try to manage without the luggage.

Then we were all asked to come to the dining room where dinner on plantain leaf awaited us, or was it lunch. Anyway, the rice + sambar + pallya + happala was just fantastic after all the adventure and the hunger. I had second and may be even third helping. The energy slowly started to return to my limbs.

After that Sachin and I moved to another building where we could take bath and sleep. That building had only one room and bathroom. There were already some 10-12 of the TT guests sleeping on the mats. The bathroom there was modern and well equipped, and had firewood heated water.

This region is called Malenadu (Hill terrain) and wood fired hot water bath is generally considered the best luxury since the early days. Just think, this house is neither connected via road, electricity, cable, phone nor postal service. They grow all the food they need. All the food they fed us, was grown there, including the rice. However, they did have electricity via their own hydro-electric generator. They have no bills to pay. All the materials to build that house was carried on head and brought there. This is a true island away from civilization.

As Sachin and I were waiting for our turn in the bath, we were talking to Jammy about various things. But we could barely hear each other in the deafening sound coming from outside. Ok, I am used to the noise of cricket and toads during the monsoon. But how about 1000 crickets and 1000 toads screaming at unison, how would that sound? It was total cocophony, and I was wondering how we could sleep in that racket.

The hot bath after spending most of the day in wet cloth was pure heavenly. After changing into dry clothes, I hit the bed listening to the racket outside. Every half an hour it used to rain and the volume of the racket would go down suddenly. Before I knew, I faded into sleepÖzzzz

To be continuedÖ
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Old 10th September 2010, 02:04   #3
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Samurai you are absolutely nuts, the people with kids alongside even nuttier, Nidhi is a very brave lady to be wading in the rapidly flowing stream and the lady carrying the child across the wooden plank bridge is just very agile and Sreeni is well resourcefull. I wonder how the group with the children would have felt when they came upon the next longish tree trunk bridge in the fading light and that must have been one hell of a big tree.

Having said the above I am very envious seeing all of you in the photos. Once you are done with the travelogue or maybe within the same could you post the location on a map for the uninitiated.

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Old 10th September 2010, 08:12   #4
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Super cool man look like you guys had ball of time. Love the temple near water fall Also the importance of tools in a 4WD.

Thanks a ton for sharing it with us.

Cheers
Sunil
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Old 10th September 2010, 09:08   #5
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And i presume the "the remaining half is because of the Jeep" is coming up?
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Old 10th September 2010, 10:09   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by khoj View Post
Samurai you are absolutely nuts, the people with kids alongside even nuttier
Actually we didn't know what to expect here. We took it as it came.

Quote:
Originally Posted by khoj View Post
Nidhi is a very brave lady to be wading in the rapidly flowing stream and the lady carrying the child across the wooden plank bridge is just very agile
Both are one and the same. Even at the scary bridge in the evening, all the kids were supposedly carried across by the locals. Obviously parents didn't dare carry them on their own.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hisunil View Post
Super cool man look like you guys had ball of time. Love the temple near water fall Also the importance of tools in a 4WD.
I guess the people who carry axe on their jeep as ornament can finally justify it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by svsantosh View Post
And i presume the "the remaining half is because of the Jeep" is coming up?
Yeah, it has become a fashion these days. My Jeep always has problems on the way back, but never at the OTR event.
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Old 10th September 2010, 11:18   #7
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Not a typical OTR story yet with all the walking but awesome nevertheless. I think such experiences are more fun when you look back at it the way you have recounted because while you are going through it there's so much to take care of (notably your life!)

Waiting for the rest, Sharath!

Cheers,
Adi
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Old 10th September 2010, 12:52   #8
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Samurai,

At atlast we got to see this thread coming out. Nice story line. Photography of nature nothing unexpected at least from you. Simply superb

Dwarak
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Old 12th September 2010, 18:32   #9
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Samu San slipped and fell couple of times walking alongside me,not because he was trying to keep up with my long stride, but because every few moments,he'd pull out his camera,take a meticulous shot,complain something about low light condition and pack away the camera only to pull it out all over again. . Didn't want to annoy him by asking why he was doing so. It was the first time I was meeting him. Would like to remember Mjothi here as he'd hang from back of a Jeep with lot of agility with camera in one hand and gesticulating with the other and still take grreat shots in any OTR.

Samu san,no offence meant
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Old 14th September 2010, 01:08   #10
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A Samurai neither slips nor falls. He was looking at some exotic angles for the photos and to your untrained eye it seemed otherwise.

Samurai San kindly end this wait and give darshan.


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Samu San slipped and fell couple of times walking alongside me,not because he was trying to keep up with my long stride, but because every few moments,he'd pull out his camera,take a meticulous shot,complain something about low light condition and pack away the camera only to pull it out all over again. . Didn't want to annoy him by asking why he was doing so. It was the first time I was meeting him. Would like to remember Mjothi here as he'd hang from back of a Jeep with lot of agility with camera in one hand and gesticulating with the other and still take grreat shots in any OTR.

Samu san,no offence meant
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Old 15th September 2010, 08:54   #11
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Dear Sharath / Sreenivas - this is like "wow", I would love to accompany both of you into this terrain in the Thar. This is real Thar territory. It would be worth all the trouble to be able to eat "rice and sambar" in a green leaf in South India.

I guess we are really nuts!

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
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Old 15th September 2010, 09:40   #12
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@Samurai sir, first time, I'm hearing about such an adventure. I didn't even know such things are carried out as adventure. Just walking into forest & there're houses that services & all the more, the people in house grows from rice to electricity in the surrounding & this is like living almost independent. Well, in that case, they don't have to pay taxes either right

I'm really blown away!!! Is it just that one house or is there a neighbourhood? How're they protecting their crops from animals? Very interesting read though. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 15th September 2010, 13:07   #13
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Samurai ,wonderful adventure !

Btw should this thread named as Forest Tree Cutting Adventure OTR instead of Sharavathy Valley OTR

Did the OTR actually happen on that day ? Anyways i would like to go for such forest adventures any day
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Old 15th September 2010, 14:11   #14
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mind blowing pics and location but cant see any machine in action.

what happened there?? got chance to do some offroad?
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Old 15th September 2010, 14:40   #15
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Great experience. That too just reading it. Its wonderfully written without the usual suspense that people dribble now-a-days.
Expecting updates sooner...!
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