We were just about to start our ascent of the mighty mountains of Velliangiri (also called South Kailash) when we were confronted by a man wearing a helpless face, trying to live a respectful life even in poverty. That kind of face. He said, “Ayya, please give me an opportunity to smoothen your bamboo sticks. I will charge only 5 rupees per stick. I have two kids Ayya, and I want them to study”. We could see a small boy (referred to as Jet Lee, going forward) playing around in the temple premises, having little idea about the poverty his family was in. Just behind him, the man’s wife was feeding their second kid. We gave the man 30 rupees and also asked him to make sure Jet Lee studies and comes big in life. The man thanked us with a beaming smile and wished us good.
A boy, all of 14 years, was manning a small shop in the middle of the mountain forests, selling biscuits and other refreshments. Abishek asked him if he was going to school. Their conversation follows.
Abishek: “Brother, do you go to school?”
Boy: “No” <without any signs of resentment>
Abishek: “Why not? Your parents couldn’t afford it?”
Boy: “They could. I was going to a Government school till Class VIII. Then I stopped”
The boy shooed away a few monkeys which were interested in the bananas in his shop
Abishek: “Why? Why did you stop?”
Boy: “One day I got angry in Class and hit my teacher bang on his head. I never returned to school after that”
All of us were in shock.
Abishek: “Why? What did he do?”
By this time, he had developed a liking for us and spoke more freely.
He went on to explain how the teacher had shouted a lot of expletives towards him when he had gone to class without completing his homework. When the boy tried to explain that his father was taken ill the previous day, the teacher wouldn’t listen. At one point, the boy apparently lost his cool and hit him hard on the center of his head with a stick. And never returned to school.
In the middle of the forests, after 11 hours of trekking, sitting on the rocks, there was only thing running in my mind! What if Jet Lee grows up to become like this boy!
Anyway, these two scenes kind of capture the quality of life of people living in and around Velliangiri.
This was my second successful visit to the Velliangiri mountains, in three years. Something I can proudly tell my grandchildren, 40 years hence.
If you look at the demographics of people who come to Velliangiri, 80% of the people are from Coimbatore or its surrounding areas itself. ~19% from Chennai and other cities in Tamil Nadu. There were hardly any people outside Tamil Nadu. Other than being a pilgrimage center for Shiva devotees, it is also a brilliant trekking destination.
But there are a number of reasons why Velliangiri is not yet there in say, “The Top 10 trekking destinations of India”.
- The Authorities probably don’t see it as a Tourist destination, and haven’t taken any significant steps in that direction
- It is not safe.
- We heard stories about a Tamil movie Director who got lost in the forests, and came out somewhere near Kerala, after nearly a month.
- Lack of facilities.
- Apart from moonlight and the torch/mobile phone one carries, there’s no source of light, for 95% of the journey, up and down
- There are only three sources of water, all seven mountains combined
- No WOM
- Since most of the people who visit Velliangiri are “not-so-tech-savvy” devotees, the word of mouth doesn’t spread beyond their close circles
- Perhaps, the Isha Foundation can contribute in a big way to make it an awesome tourist destination
To kill boredom while trekking (we were only three of us), we surveyed people who were coming in the opposite direction. We would ask someone, “Anna, innum evlo dhooram na?” (“Anna, how much more distance to the peak?”), and he would say, “It’s very close. Will hardly take two more hours”. We would then walk for two hours and then ask another guy. “Just one more hour”. After walking for an hour. “Maximum one more hour”.
It took us 7 hours in total, to reach the peak. The mountains were deserted, that friday evening. In fact, there was a stretch of around an hour when there was not a single person ahead or behind us. Stories about the missing Tamil Director was there in the back of our minds, Our torch lights were dimming. That moment was my best of the trek.
After paying our respect to Lord Shiva at the peak and taking the load off our feet for an hour, we started our descent at 7 am. It was raining then and we were offered some breathtaking views by nature.
The rocks were slippery due to rain and it took us some extra effort and time to climb down the 7th mountain. Aradh’s obsession with clicking pictures didn’t help us either.
The next 4 mountains were relatively easier to climb down. By this time, after 12 mountains (7+5) and 12 hours of continuous trekking, my legs had given up. They were dead. Climbing down the last two mountains were the toughest for me, taking a break after every 10-15 minutes.
Trekking unlike say jogging, or gymming, is different in the way that you don’t have a choice. You cannot give up. You push your boundaries longer and harder. But when you are done, there’s no feeling bigger than that feeling of accomplishment.
At the end of 14 hours of trekking, some picturesque moments. some eerie moments, some calm moments away from the drudgery of city life, the experience was totally worth it!
If you do not have Velliangiri in your bucket list yet, it’s time you add it to the list and make it a point to visit the awesome place, some time. You will not regret it!