Peter Van Geit's Chennai Trekking Club opens pathways to places untouched by tourism. Prince Frederick on the club's activities that have fostered lasting friendships.
Peter Van Geit has spiced up the weekend. The Chennai Trekking Club (CTC), which organises weekend treks in places not frequented by tourists, is his baby. From a tiny clique of trekkers in a software company, CTC has grown into a group with 8,600 registered members. Every day, the club gets ten new members. Despite this explosive growth, CTC functions without hierarchy. Geit does not hold any position within CTC, but everybody accepts him as its chief representative.
Geit has consistently displayed leadership qualities and organisational skills. Last weekend, a trek through the Nagalapuram mountain range turned problematic when four trekkers got lost. Geit left for the mountains immediately. Close to midnight, he began his search for the lost ones, hacking his way through thorny bushes. Bloody tears on his arms are the mementoes of this mission, which ended successfully.
A meticulous organiser, Geit plans every trek down to the last detail. Quick weekend trips are made possible by numerous hours of leisure spent on preparation and research. He regularly studies Google and topographical maps of scenic places in south India to unearth rare trails. Geit shows a 100-year-old jeep trail in a map of the Venkateswara National Reserve Forest in Andhra Pradesh. “CTC believes in finding new trails, because they make for new discoveries. Almost always, we come upon remains of summer rest houses built by the British.”
He has loads of information about all the pretty places in South India. Despite being Belgian, he also understands social customs in this part of the world — which is a big advantage for a trekker. “I have been in Chennai for 13 years and consider it home. It is three years since I last visited Belgium. I felt bored to the core; and also miserable, because I lost two weekends of trekking!”
A Belgian company's expansion plans brought Geit to Chennai in the late 1990s. A key player in the Chennai unit that made software for digital television networks, Geit joined hands with a colleague to start an in-house trekking club. Blog postings made the club known to the outside world. Following requests for memberships from outsiders, the club's doors were opened wide. In February 2008, a website was created for CTC and that opened the floodgates.
Geit has made countless number of friends through CTC. “A friendship forged during a trek is very different from one made at a bar or a social gathering. It does not snap easily. Every weekend, a great number of strangers sign up for a trek. On Friday evening, they are strangers. On Sunday evening, they are friends for life. During the three days, they go through sweat and blood to complete the trek. They can't do it without relying on one another. Friendships made under such circumstances last a lifetime.”
The informal atmosphere of the club fosters unity. “Nobody owns CTC. It is totally volunteer-based. As the group has grown bigger and three to four treks are being organised every weekend, we have 30 to 40 people who are called organisers. They have been chosen by virtue of their ability to lead a group, navigate through tough terrain and serve selflessly. Being organisers does not entitle them to any special privileges.”
Geit says CTC has been kept free of commercial motives. A raft of companies has tried to push their products to CTC, but without success. “They see the group as a sizeable market. Besides the charges that cover expenses incurred through transportation and other essential services, not a single rupee is collected from a trekker. And there is absolutely no pressure on them to buy any particular product.”
As Nature comes free, Geit believes that the adventure of discovering it in its pristine forms should also be free.