Signals from Signal Rock and Getting Lost in the Jungle

The RV Hiking Club

The RV Hiking Club, with Venks Sir in the centre.

Memoirs of Rishi Valley is a series of posts written by Sri S. V. Venkatachalam, known fondly to his students as Venks Sir. In his 20 years as a teacher at RV, he left an indelible mark on the valley, and he has a fond place in the collective memory of many students. As he turns 82 this year, it is his desire and our privilege to share with students old and new an RV that is long gone and yet lives on.

PART 1: Signals From The Signal Rock to Rishi Valley at Night

The Horsley Hills are full of dense jungles. At the highest point, 4020 ft (1265 mt) above sea level, lie the ‘Signal Rocks’, which can be spotted during the day time from the play grounds of the school. According to local folk-lore, there used to be a little girl, Mallamma by name, who had lived there and was taken care of by a few elephants. It is said that she had miraculous powers of curing the health problems of the local tribals who used to visit these jungles. She disappeared one day and the local people built a little temple in memory of Mallamma’s divine powers. The hill came to be remembered as Yenugu Mallamma Konda. Yenugu in Telugu means an elephant.

I heard from the hikers of the erstwhile school, ‘The School Rishi Valley’, that they used to have an interesting activity when they trekked. The trekkers used to send light signals to the valley at night in response to switching on and off the street lights by the switch operators of Rishi Valley. We wanted to try out this exciting ‘operation’ ourselves. In this outing, several students, boys and girls, took part. In December 1956, on a weekend, the party set out after breakfast. One batch of the members of the hiking club, led by me, took the short cut trek to the hilltop via the Three Sisters’ Rocks. The other group led by Sri G. Narayan went by bus to the foot of the hills on the Anantapur Road and walked up the ghat road. Arrangements were made to have two cooks and two helpers to accompany us and carry packed lunch and tea and also prepare dinner and breakfast for the morning. After the parties reached the Forest Bungalow, the students went to look around the place. After lunch and rest children were busy running around and playing.

Late in the evening all the younger ones were given early dinner and asked to sleep. The hikers, after making sure that they were comfortable, secured the main door of the forest bungalow set out for the signal rock adventure. We had with us a ‘petromax’ lamp operated using kerosene for this purpose. Two boys carried a huge blanket to serve as a switch for covering and uncovering the light. At about 8:30 p.m. ten of us made a bee line to the Signal Rock while taking care to spot bears! We chose a flat surface and settled down quietly. Sharp at 9 p.m. we started the signaling operation in the direction of the school campus. Lo! There we could see the switching on and off of the street lights of the school campus by Mr. John who used be in charge of the power house. I am sure they could see our signals. We learnt later that there was a great jubilation among the people in the valley who had gathered there. We were also equally jubilant at the success of the operation. The next morning we got back to Rishi Valley after breakfast. The students were happy at the success of the trek.

PART 2: How We Got Lost in a Jungle at Night

Having been impressed with the success of the trek to the Horsley Hills, many others wanted to trek with us. After much planning, we got one group, led by Gundu Rao Sir, to go by bus to the foot of the hills on the Madanapalle-Kadiri Road and walk up the ghat road. The other group led by me and Sri. Bharathan (who used to take good care of the school dairy farm) decided to give the group a tougher climb. We were to climb the Rishi Konda first, climb down the northern slope, then climb down the southern slopes of the Horsley Hills from the base and then cut across to the Forest Bungalow. We had taken care to study the Survey of India map (1 inch to a mile), particularly the hill paths.

The new comers in our batch were so awfully slow in the first part of the climb that by the time we got down to the base, it was very late in the afternoon. We hurried the group and by the time we had climbed the connecting hill top , it was already getting dark. We could spot the Horsley hill top which was about a kilometer away. While the survey map showed a clear area, in reality it was now covered with thick lantana bushes ( the map was cartographed in the year 1925). Though we tried our best to cut across the bushes using our staves, we found there was no chance of such a possibility. It became quite dark. We gave up hope of further efforts and decided to settle down on a clear area and waited for the dawn.

Most of the people in the group started feeling jittery. We had finished eating the food we carried. There was no water left. Oranges had been eaten and only the orange peels were left with us for ‘dinner’. We were compelled to eat them. All around it was a thick jungle. It was said to be infested with bears. Remaining there throughout the night was the ‘Hobson’s choice’ we had! Bharathan and I had to discover ways of keeping the group in a good mood. We were able to light a bush fire and got a few boys to keep feeding the fire. We assured the children that there was no need to panic. The other party had reached the hill top by midday as planned and had been waiting for us with lunch and tea.

Luckily for us, it was a full moon night so we could at least enjoy seeing the jungle at night. We had to be content with lying down and keep watching the bright full moon sail across the sky. One by one, everyone went to sleep while Bharathan and I kept a close watch on the group. The next morning, just after dawn, we tried our best to cut through the bushes but in vain. We decided to retreat and walked down the slope we had climbed and then walked along the path towards Rishi Valley via the Thettu village. By the time we got near the outskirts of the village, we noticed a batch of search party students led by Gundu Rao Sir advancing towards us, with worry writ on their faces. They had made a frantic phone call to Mr. Pearce from Horsley Hills and they had been instructed to go early in the morning to look for the ‘LOST TREKKERS’. Their joy knew no bounds on seeing us. Our group was thirsty to the bones. We drank the water from the stream to our heart’s content and reached the school safely. All those who were waiting anxiously, were now relieved and listened to our story in amazement!

We’re indebted to both Vaani Akka (Venks Sir’s daughter) and T. K. Ramkumar sir for all their support in putting this post together. Thank you so much Akka and Sir! 🙂

5 thoughts on “Signals from Signal Rock and Getting Lost in the Jungle

  1. It is so nostalgic Sir, to read and reread your memoirs…
    Thank you for the WONDERFUL time you gave us at RV in more ways than can be expressed! I am sure many will agree with me: you touched our inner beings and are enlivening those emotions through your recollections and detailed descriptions of events!
    With deepest regards, Gita (1964)

  2. I was part of the hiking club and I remember two memorable hikes: one walking from Madras to Mahabalipuram overnight and spending the night in the verandah of a school building on the way. The other was cycling from Dharmavaram to Anantapur or was it the other way round? And lots of other fun hikes in and round the valley

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