This section of track has been abandoned for several years, apparently for conversion from metre to broad gauge. It is now a popular trekking route with both bus drivers and railway workers accustomed to the sight of backpack wielding youth.
The bus dropped us off at 5 AM. We spent an hour or so under the nearest street lamp, distributing rented sleeping mats and food packets. Someone had mistaken the trek for a picnic and gone shopping for flavoured milk in glass bottles, potato chips and other salted (thirst inducing) snacks, entire cartons of apple and orange juice, loaves of bread, with butter, and other such items that were low on energy while high on packaging weight. We got rid of most of them before boarding the bus; the rest we had to carry.
By 6:30am, were on the tracks. By 7, the light improved and I started taking pictures. My own baggage was mostly camera equipment, clothes, sleeping bag and mat, and some water. Kishore carried all my food.
The first bridge caused a great deal of excitement. People wanted pictures taken. It wasn’t hard at all, given the steel planks laid across it, but later bridges turned out to be progressively poorly maintained, with those planks missing, and some with rotting wooden logs for sleepers instead of steel. I managed to lose a lens cap.
Some people had trouble crossing the bridges, barely managing a step at a time while holding on to another for support. Others delighted in them and took to demonstrating their fearlessness.
Hemanth didn’t notice those bee hives below him. We gesticulated frantically and he smiled and waved back. Then he climbed up and came over and discovered what he had been so close to.
Below us was a stream with a rotting wooden bridge across it.
It was a hot day, we were soaked in sweat and dirt, and that stream looked rather inviting, so we climbed down and waded around for a good hour or two, waiting for the others to catch up.
Look at where Hemanth had been dangling his feet from:
There were tunnels, all bearing a number and length. We covered 35 in two days, with the longest a little over 500 metres. These tunnels are unlit, pitch dark, and home to bats that don’t like being disturbed. I discovered my torch wasn’t bright enough to light anything more than the next spot where my foot would come down. Imagine a sensation of being strangled by nothingness.
Tunnel entrances were a good place to take breaks in. We took several.
The unfortunate part of settling down like this was in being interrupted by passing vehicles. Some of these were regular street vehicles that had their tires replaced with rail wheels. Other were regular vehicles with regular wheels, taking to the rails because it was the only way around.
This one time I was half-way across a bridge when a train horn sounded out of the tunnel at the end of the bridge. I turned around and ran—thereby discovering a previously unknown agility—and then noticed vidyas_words, who had trouble with the bridges, was also moving unusually fast towards the other end. It seems fear is best killed by greater fear.
Towards the end of the day, I broke off from a slow moving group and reached Yedakumeri station alone, around 6pm. Turned out the first group had reached as early as 1pm. I was tired, my shoulders hurt from a badly adjusted backpack, and my foot soles hurt from a day of walking on half-foot sleepers and stone in footwear too flimsy to distribute the load. Yedakumeri had little to offer by way of comfort. We were resigned to a night on the platform with threat of rain, when a friendly local directed us to quarters previously used by railroad workers. I slept easily. The others gathered wood for a campfire and made dinner.
Most of the group now decided to end the trek here. A local told us of a 4km jungle trail that led to a main road from where we could get a lift to Subramanya, the nearest town where a bus awaited us. Others decided to finish what they had started. I went with the latter.
We walked 10km the next day before giving up too. There was a diversion through the jungle that led to Gundya, from where we could get a bus to Subramanya. We had no water and the stream at this place was dirty, so some people walked another 3km to the next stream to fill up for everyone (it turned out this second stream was just around the corner from the original destination of Shiribagulu). Particular credit goes to theju for his indefatigable spirit, despite having broken his footwear and been reduced to borrowed hawai chappals.
The sight of a tarred road and sound of motor vehicles was the sweetest thing I heard in two days.
See all photos on Flickr »
Guys, I don’t have all your LJ ids/blog links. If you’re reading this, could you drop a link? Thanks. Known so far: theju, mat_attack, anantj, kishorej, chandrahasa, ashaonnet, shruthi_dipali, fiveonehalf, vidyas_words and sudhi_11in.
I don’t have the patience to write anymore, so I’ll end here. Here's more from fellow trekkers:
Sid 1: http://mat-attack.livejournal.com/2
Sid 2: http://mat-attack.livejournal.com/2
Others have written about this route too. Notably:
I thoroughly enjoyed this trek and am looking forward to another like it soon.
Notes on gear
For photography, I used a Nikon D70 with a 2GB CF card, 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 kit lens, and a borrowed Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. I also carried but had little use for a 50mm f/1.8 lens, a Slik tripod fitted with a Manfrotto quick release plate system, a Nikon SB-600 flash, and a gold-and-silver folding reflector. I wish I hadn’t carried all that dead weight.
I wore a white wide-brimmed hat, white t-shirt and track pants, all of which turned out to be good choices. I also carried but couldn’t use a vest with pockets—because it caused me to sweat too much—and a multi-pocket belt-pack—because it interfered with the backpack’s waist-belt. They too became dead weight in my backpack.
I used a pair of Adidas floaters that I wear everyday and find extremely comfortable for walking, but found they were too flimsy for walking on railway sleepers which are narrower than the average human foot, and hence end up applying pressure in the middle of the sole. I had avoided sneakers and boots because they would be stuffy. Big mistake. There is only one criteria for footwear for such a trek: that the sole does not bend easily.
I discovered a little too late why good backpacks have metal strips for back support—they’re there to support the bag, not your back. When the bag is supported thus and strapped high enough up your waist, the shoulder straps end up applying almost no pressure on your shoulders. Bonus for people with protruding bellies: a bag strapped high up will not slip down and will exercise those same abs you so detest going to gym for.