Peter Van Geit makes you want to go trekking almost instantly

Once you know what Peter Van Geit does over the weekends, his statement: “I am a bit of an explorer,” will seem like a light-hearted joke. Since he started the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) four years ago, this Belgian- turned-honorary Chennaite, spends most weekends “exploring beautiful places in South India.”

The explorations began during a touristy visit to Tada Falls. “I wondered where the falls originated and set off to find out,” he says, about a trip which triggered his fondness for the wilderness and his resolve to not follow the designated trail. “In South India, it is useful to follow the path of a stream, since we sweat it out when we go on treks, the water will keep the body hydrated.”

The CTC, which now has 15,000 members, organises treks for groups of 20 to 30 people every weekend to various spots in the four Southern states.

What’s more: it attracts people from all age groups. “We trekked onto some mountains,” says six-year-old Layla, describing the CTC trek she went on to Nagalapuram. Layla, who moved to the city recently with her parents, says she has been on several treks back home in Canada too.

Peter’s love for all the places he visits is evident when he is asked to describe which his favourite trekking spot is. “It is really difficult for me to choose my favourite spot,” he says, after letting the question sit for a while. “But I will say, one of the most memorable places is Venkateswara National Park in Andhra Pradesh,” he says, adding that it’s also the place where he takes a group for a ‘survival mission’ which is nine continuous days of trekking in the jungles.

He has also encountered his share of wildlife. “Once, we were swimming down a stream when we saw a 5-metre long python which was a little scary,” he says, before he starts imitating the snout of a sloth bear. “You may have seen these guys with their big, grey snouts. Since they are usually found in the Himalayas, it was surprising to find them in this part of the country.”

There may not have been bad days while on treks but there certainly was a number of challenges such as running out of drinking water, and low energy levels of trekkers.

But his familiarity with Chennai comes out when he smiles and says: “Statistically, the number of accidents while on treks is still lower than if you walking down the streets of Chennai.”

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City PulseSeptember 24, 2010