Bangalore is surrounded by hilly outcrops, streams, rivulets, patches of forest and other places where one can spend a day trekking, climbing or swimming. Of course, these have become more inhabited, polluted and/or crowded with visitors over the years. One exception is the mammoth rock cluster called Tekal. Unbroken by regular paths or green cover, it looks more daunting perhaps than it actually is. There are no religious trails or holy sites at the top of the hill, so the number of visitors is relatively small. It is, of course, a haven for rock climbers, and this is how my adventures on Tekal began – and continued- each trip being memorable for its uncomfortable moments (and also, once I relaxed, for the stark beauty of the place).
The first time I visited, perhaps twenty years ago, was with my husband and some of his friends who were keen rock climbers. By keen I mean that one of them won first position in the state wall climbing contest. Along with her were two others who didn’t do too badly in the contest either, one has now started a full time trekking company, and so on. I myself am no climber and have a very average head for heights, so you can imagine my initial feelings when I saw rock upon rock that I had to clamber over.
Appearances are deceptive in Tekal; though it initially looks insurmountable, almost everyone reaches the top (and returns relatively unscathed!) for there are just a few tricky sections, and the rocks are not as slippery as they might appear. The tricky sections, of course, look innocuous, and vice versa, so one really needs to stop judging a rock by its looks. One also needs to realize that one will not slip and fall through the cracks and spaces between rocks that one has to leap over. Then you can relax and enjoy the view!
On my first trek there, I was lagging behind, trying to get familiar with the feel of the rocks. It didn’t matter how slow I was, for I would eventually reach a point where everyone else was standing, working out some tricky manoeuvres on a rock. Here I would catch my breath and wait till they finished and then lag behind some more. In the middle of our journey we met two barefoot boys from an adjacent village, who happily leaped (higher and faster than what perhaps was necessary) and periodically held out their hands to try and get me to move faster. Hands were a big no-no amongst the regulars (even your own hands, when descending slopes), so I valiantly and successfully managed on my own two feet. I learnt some nice things in between all the adrenalin rush; the nicest being how to climb a chimney, which is perhaps the only kind of rock formation that I thoroughly enjoy climbing – wedging oneself into a crack and magically scaling two vertical cliffs. I was bruised and exhausted at the end (having used my hands and butt to slide down steep slopes) and happy to finally take the local train back to the city.
The second time round was with my husband’s lab (also known as the RV lab) and I was mentally prepared for the trip. My husband's cousin (who accompanied us), however wasn’t and she was a bit scared when we reached the base. Having spent decades in convents, she let out a volley of Hail Mary’s; lo and behold rescue arrived in the form of a large goat, which materialized from nowhere and stood patiently behind her on a rock until she began to move forward. And once she began to climb, there was no looking back; she managed without much trouble. After scaling all the difficult parts, we were looking forward to ambling towards the top, when suddenly we heard a loud angry buzz and looked to see a cloud of wild bees heading our way. The slopes that had taken half an hour to climb were descended in about two minutes – a true test of the power of the mind! As soon as we began our descent, the bees left us alone and we looked back to see them flying back towards their giant hives that we had not noticed earlier.
The next trip was also with the RV lab with the addition of one student who was not part of the lab, but who joined us that day. He was a pleasant fellow with a habit of ambling aimlessly along. In those days, I generally went at the very end of the line, partly because I liked to go at my own pace and partly because I didn’t want anyone to be left stranded anywhere. So I let this fellow go ahead but it took me twice as long, especially after we all climbed down some ravine (why we did this I have no idea, probably just for the experience of it). Anyway, everyone climbed back up and this man was still ambling below, humming to himself for a while. Even I began to get restless waiting down there especially because dark clouds were gathering overhead. Finally he began to climb, got stuck in several places, and had to be pulled to the top by some others. At this stage, it began to rain. Wet rocks are terribly slippery. I wondered what to do. “Throw your shoes up and climb barefoot,” yelled an unfazed RV. And so I did. The first two throws were unsuccessful; I couldn’t get them high enough and I hoped the shoes wouldn’t fall into some crack within the rocks. Third time lucky, and I managed to climb up and once the rain subsided, climb-slide down along with the rest of the group. After that I have given up my polite ways of ‘pehle aap’.
The next time round was also a trip with the RV lab, I remember one of the research fellows being extremely scared while going up. He was convinced he wouldn’t live to tell the tale and promised everyone a round of (soft) drinks to celebrate, if he returned unharmed! Perhaps everyone ensured he did, or perhaps he had a safe and smooth ascent and descent, for drinks were generously doled out at the end of that trip. Everything was humming along for me, and I was third last this time (the second last person being RV, who was trying out some tricky rocks as a last minute treat, and the last person an old friend who was called Hua, who had a knack of attracting solitary flying kites wherever he went – once the kite began circling above him, nature and gravity would take over and the inevitable would occur. His name was unfortunately convenient for people – everyone would look up at the sky and ask “Hua, hua?” (Hua, has it happened?) – and he would often nod sheepishly. But I digress. At this moment, he was busy cleaning himself with some stalks of grass and a handkerchief).
Suddenly (and I don’t know how), I found myself tripping and sliding many feet down. I leaned forward to slow my fall and the friction on the rocks did the rest. After the initial shock, I didn’t mind too much; it had saved me the trouble of walking down some especially steep sections. My hands were grazed but not terribly. It was only when I stood up that I realized that my clothes had been torn to shreds at the back. I wondered what to do. “Exchange T shirts with Hua who is just a size bigger than you,” muttered an unfazed RV. I waited for Hua and then requested a swap of T shirts (fortunately the kite had only dumped on his head and not his clothes; of course I would have taken his shirt in any condition). His long T shirt amply covered my backside and he gallantly donned my tattered one). When we reached the bottom of the hill, everyone was focussed on their drinks and didn’t pay any attention to our strange garb. Once more I boarded the local train with a sigh of pleasurable relief.
It has been many years since I visited Tekal but a recent video from the RV lab reminded me of my previous experiences. It is quite a terrific snippet of a long trek, and the photographer, Siddharth Patel, has kindly allowed me to use it here. I attach a link to the site: