Sunday, May 21, 2006


I have discovered more about myself in one year at TAPMI than I could in four years of my engineering. MBA is not just about knowledge about the subjects, but knowledge about you. More on this some other time. There is one experience which I will always remember and that is Outbound.

Outbound is a part of the curriculum where we spend a week at Natraja Gurukul near Bangalore. Those who fail to complete it have to repeat it the following year with the juniors. After 5th theme (the mother of all themes), we set out for Natraja Gurukul. I had heard horror as well as memorable stories about Outbound from the seniors. We were given one warning: Do as you are told. Don’t find a reason in what you are doing. Just do it. That will keep you optimistic till the end. I didn’t think too much about it that time. But for the next week, these words kept buzzing in my brain and they were my savior.

Day 1:
We reached the Gurukul in the morning. We were allotted tents: 3 girls per tent. Sharmistha (my roomie at TAPMI) was my tent mate. Artee and Aparna (my good friends- we are called “Charlie’s Angels… yeah, we kick ass) were in the adjoining tent with Sahana (Aparna’s roomie) and Pavan (one of the chill girls at TAPMI). We were briefed about the Dos (there wasn’t much to say about that) and the Don’ts (no cell phones, don’t be late, come together for meals etc etc). After being fed (the food is the best I’ve ever had to-date and it was nourishing). At around 3 pm, we trekked to the top of the hill (the name was some-beta… beta means hill) and were briefed about the region. After we memorized the names of the surrounding hills, villages, the national park etc; we were taken to the cave; the one we had heard horror stories about. We formed a human chain; all of us were holding hands as we entered. We had to slide into it lying down. The girls who were weak (meaning: scared) were in the middle while the strong (meaning: not scared) were at the end of the chain. Archana was in front of me and Payal behind me. The cave was pitch dark, our torches had been confiscated. We had to keep our voices down incase the bats got disturbed. I couldn’t see a thing. If I would have let go of Archana’s hand, I would get lost and so would the 5 girls behind me. For sometime, Uma got lost and the instructor had to rescue her. But all-in-all it was fun and not scary as the guys had described it. We headed back to the camp in the evening. It was tiring and just the beginning. This was the only exercise I had had after months of being cooped up in classroom or the library and I welcomed it. We had been divided into teams at random (that was a good thing… prevented group formations) and my team consisted of Aarthi, Purvasha, Deepa, Sahana, Priya and Archana. We chose Purvasha as the team leader because she wanted to be one. Neither of us wanted to be responsible about the others (I know I am selfish, but then I realized I did not like to lead. It is tiring. I’d rather stay in the sidelines). After a good dinner, we watched the movie ice age. It was freezing cold in the night. Thankfully, I had carried a warm jacket; but since I didn’t have a sleeping bag I had to sleep on the tarpaulin on the hard ground with only a bed sheet covering me. Next to me, Sharmistha was sweating in her sleeping bag. How I envied her. I finally dozed off but some insect bit me hard. I was scared incase it was poisonous. We had spotted a cobra skin in the camp earlier in the day. I switched on my torch and began the search for the blasted snake. I was glad when I found nothing; but the commotion had woken up Sharmistha. Our bodies were aching and we took painkillers after snacking on some chips we had hidden in our bags. It felt nice and it is one of the (few) best moments with my roomie.

Day 2:
We woke up at 6 am. There were two bathrooms for 30 girls. We were lucky, the boys had to take a bath in the open; and that too in the month of October when it was raining. For brushing and washing up, there were taps in the open. I felt nostalgic about Sophia (my boarding school). We would line up early in the morning for a wash with our mugs and toiletries. At 7 am, we went for a jog and exercises. The instructors were strict. No excuses worked with them. We then headed for breakfast after which we were taught the technique to climb rocks. “Use your toes only, not your heel. Walk on your toes”; barked the instructor. We practiced till lunch. Every time one of us successfully climbed the boulder, everyone else cheered. And when we were having difficulty, the others encouraged. It was team spirit at its best. The instructors seemed to know everyone’s capability and pushed us only to our limits. When I tried climbing one of the boulders, I fell on my back. My head narrowly missed hitting the rock. It was close and frightening. But some of the girls like Aparna Setya managed to climb even the most daunting boulders. It was amazing. I had bruised my palm and it looked sore. I was so proud of myself. It was like my salary after all the hard work. What is the point of doing something if you don’t have anything to show for it? In the evening, we played throw ball and volley ball. I didn’t join in the volley ball and we sat in the side lines gossiping about our regulars (the ones “we” always gossip about. There never disappoint us as they always create waves). We also had compass and map reading classes for the next day.

Day 3:
We were looking forward to this day. Today was day navigation. We were given the number of degrees on compass and some clues. We had to reach our destination and bring the flag by evening. If we failed, we would have to leave the Gurukul; which means our course would be incomplete and we would have to come again next year with the juniors. All the teams were given their destination at half hour gaps. We were asked to follow the compass… if it indicated a pond, then wade through the pond and not look for a way around it. So, we crossed fields, mines, forest etc. The compass showed that our destination was the highest mountain in that region. I kept walking without thinking too much about it. Then we reached the forest and for sometime we were lost. We had been advised not to asked the villagers the way because they directed to the wrong path for some fun. But we couldn’t resist it. We came across two other teams. They had been sent before us, but we were faster than them (Hehehe!!!). Our last hurdle was an elephant trench (it is built to keep elephants of the forest from entering the village. We were even given ropes incase one of us fell into the trench and needed to be pulled up) which would lead us to the bottom of the hill. At the edge of the trench we met the other team. The forest guard was preventing us from entering the trench because elephants were creating riot inside. Honestly, we didn’t care. We thought he wanted money and was creating problems. But he was adamant. Kala’s group had tried to sneak inside but he caught them. We were in a fix. There was no way to contact the instructors. Should we go back or find another way to reach our destination? The team leaders borrowed some money (the smarter ones were carrying it) and went to call the Gurukul; the rest of us waited, in the blazing heat, for them to return. Finally, we returned without completing day navigation. We were disappointed and angry that the instructors could risk our lives like this. Some of the elephants had attacked the nearby villages and the forest guard had done us a favor by stopping us.

Day 4:
The rigor of each day kept increasing day by day. What lay ahead was always more difficult. And all of us seemed to be doing pretty well. There were no mishaps, no untoward incidents. Sushma was a little ill but everyone was holding up well. But today was the test. For some, today would be the worst day. There were activities lined up for us:

1) River crossing: We had to crawl across a chasm on a rope. There was a safety rope attached to our waist. When my turn came, I was scared; but I pretended otherwise. I spoke little during outbound; mainly because I am not good at expressing my feelings. And most of the times, I was not sure what I was feeling. I tired to stop thinking. Some people control fear by thinking about the situation. I control it by not thinking; I just stop listening to my mind and my heart. All I knew was I had to cross the chasm, come what may. I didn’t have an option; and that was that. I wanted to keep my head if something went wrong. Fear was a disadvantage. I had no use for it. River crossing gave me a high. I have not tried bungee-jumping, but now I know what makes people do it. And the view was amazing. I never wanted it to end. But end it did.

2) Rappling: This is a technique used to descend a rock. Safety rope is tied around the waist. We have to lean perpendicular to the rock (freaking) and then walk backwards. One hand has to be behind acting like a brake and the other one is front to control the speed. I was terrified when I had to lean backwards. I didn’t think I could do it. And I hated myself for feeling this way. I wanted to be calm, at least on the outside. But after a few steps, I was hit with an amazing feeling. No wonder people are hooked to adventure sports. You have to try it to believe it. I just have to close my eyes and I can relive that moment again.

3) Zoomering: This is the technique used to ascend a mountain using Zoomers. Zoomers are fixed to a rope and they have to be pulled up manually. This was supposed to be the worst part of outbound. My friend (will not name her) was one of the first two to zoomer. There were parallel ropes and two girls had to ascend at a time. Since one girl got stuck, my friend was hanging there for 45 minutes in the heat. Her safety rope was tied directly on her back and it cut into her skin. The instructor had to pull her up. She was crying and there were thick red marks where the rope had hurt her. She was angry, at herself and at the instructors. She is one of the strongest people at TAPMI and seeing her like that made me anxious. The entire outbound experience was ruined for her. When my turn came, I was calm and concentrating on the zoomers. It was tiring, but I quickly reached the rock. The tricky part was climbing the rock. The rope was close to the rock and every time I tried to push the zoomer, I scraped my fingers against the rock. Man, that hurt. By the time I pulled myself up, my fingers were bleeding and my left leg was shivering, but I had a sense of achievement. It was like; “If I can do this, I can do anything”.

Day 5:
4) Shoulder Rappling: I went for shoulder rappelling. The only difference is the rope passes the shoulder. When I was about the reach the bottom, I was tired; I let go and slid down the rock. That gave me a jolt and I realized I am not invincible. I have limitations. Kala was the first one to try it out and the rope slid off her shoulder. She was hanging on the rock. Anyone else would have lost all control. But that brave lady got up and completed it.

5) Stomach Rappling: I was so shaken up after the incident; I did not want to push myself to the edge. I did not do this. In the other kind of rappelling, we were not facing the rock, but in this we had to face the rock and walk perpendicularly. For most of the girls, it was bum rappelling as they slid down on the butt. I was happy clicking away everyone’s photographs rather than sliding down. Did I chicken out? If I could go again, I would definitely do it this time. I hate to leave things mid-way. What has been started should be given proper closure, else it haunts.

We left in the evening for the hill where we would camp for 2 nights. The ration was handed over to the team leaders and we distributed it among ourselves. Priya had hurt her leg and left the camp. So, it was us 5 now. We were carrying 6 kg in our back packs (no exaggeration… and no, like always I did not over-pack. I didn’t have space even for my deo). The hill we had to ascend was 300 feet. We had to climb it without any safety ropes. If we skid, we take the others behind with us and we skid to the bottom. When I was at the bottom, I didn’t know whether I would make it. I didn’t know if I was brave. How could I? I have never been in such a situation before. I could be the one who would cry or fall or climb up without mishap. I didn’t know; but I was going to find out. To cut it short, I did fine. I didn’t need help while climbing. The instructors helped us every time we got stuck. We had to look for footholds and use our toes to climb up. When I reached the top; I thought of putting it down on my CV.

Achievement: climbed 300 feet without safety rope with 6 kgs on my back.

We collected firewood, lit fire, cooked food, had dinner, and spread out the tarpaulins. There was a small pool of water infested with frogs and a water snake. It was green in color and we used it to cook. And yes, we are all still alive. Everyone kept awake by turns to keep the fire burning to ward off wild animals.

Day 5:
After a quick breakfast, there was more rappelling and gossip session under the rock. In the evening, we were handed compass and given the destination. We had to reach the top of the hill by 2 am. If we didn’t, our course would remain incomplete. We started off. We crossed villages and walked on the highway. At 10 pm we reached the pyramid. It is under construction and once completed will be the largest in Asia. The care taker sent 2 villagers who escorted us to a temple at the bottom of the hill. It started raining and we were hungry. As soon as it stopped raining, we got ready to leave. But then some of the girls saw two bright eyes peering from the bushes. There were the eyes of a large animal. The temple was in the middle of the forest. There were rumors that a panther had entered the forest. We took a majority vote and headed back to the pyramid. We spent the night and headed for the hill in the morning. The instructors were waiting at the bottom and did not look too happy. They thought we had fudged a story.

Day 6:
We walked 13 km non-stop to the camp. At night, I left for Manipal.

This post is never-ending. I have finally documented whatever I had in mind.