Geocaching is an app-based real-world treasure hunt that uses your phone’s GPS coordinates to track treasure
Prathap Nair grabs his GPS and joins the Geocache treasure hunters
Slicing the air with my arms, in an attempt to ward off the pesky mosquitoes, I walk into the thicket of thorny, overgrown bushes in the Chamundi Hills, in the south Indian town of Mysore. Evening is descending upon the mountain side and the trees, freshly washed in the recent rain showers, are slowly acquiring a yellow-orange tinge.
I’m here to look for a ‘Geocache’ hidden somewhere in the nook of loose stones that form part of a rock wall along the stairs. Two ‘cachers’ who attempted the search before me have declared it lost. Undeterred, my friend and I had pulled on our walking shoes and set out for Chamudi Hill for our first ‘Geocaching’ experience.
Geocaching is like the Pokemon Go experience, but rather track your prize in virtual reality, with Geocaching, you will find a prize in real-life. I had just read a piece in the local newspaper about a writer hunting for a cache in Switzerland. I was instantly hooked. While my friends were weighed down with power packs trying to catch virtual booty, I had the chance to find some real treasure on this innovative trek. For Geocaching is an app-based real-world treasure hunt that uses your mobile phone’s GPS coordinates to track treasures called ‘geocache’ located closest to you.
Typically, a Geocache can vary in size – ranging from a tiny canister to a big bucket – and contains a log sheet where the ‘cacher’ records his or her details after finding it. The caches are filled with tiny knick-knacks left by previous cachers, from key chains to fridge magnets. You are allowed to take something as long as you leave something behind for the next treasure hunter.
According to the creators of the concept, there are close to three million geocaches hidden around the world – from bustling city centres to quiet wooded areas. Sometimes, the caches can contain a metal trackable, called a ‘Travel Bug’ that gets moved by the finders to the next cache, like a Geocaching torch relay.
While I was in Mysore, I found out that there is a cache hidden in Chamundi Hills, which form the backdrop to the city. So my friend and I decided that if there was treasure in ‘them thar hills’ we were going to find it.
So we started climbing the 3,300 foot high hill in attempt to claim our treasure. We weren’t the only ones on the route as hordes of pilgrims are making their way to the famed Chamundeshwari Temple that’s set on top of the hill to pay their respects and be treated to panoramic views of the city.
While usually I would have gladly climbed all 1,008 steps to take in this wonderful sight, this evening was reserved for Geocaching so I needed to push on. The hillside is covered in lush vegetation and an immense array of possibilities on where a Geocache could be stashed so we needed to start our search and get our boots muddy.
According to the hint offered by the owner of the cache, it is hidden away from the stairs, somewhere along the stone wall. After 300 odd steps, my phone starts bleeping – my GPS alerts me that I am nearing the cache. I scan the entire area with my friend, and we sprint up and down the stairs a few times, before zeroing in on a section of the stone wall. Neither of us has any idea what the cache looks like; but using the proximity indicator on the GPS, we hunt for it in the nooks and crannies of the wall. “Be careful, there could be snakes,” my friend warns me as I venture further into the bushes.
To random passerby, Geocachers might look a little suspicious – a grown man and a woman rummaging through bushes are sure to raise a few eyebrows in India. Older hill walkers stare at us with baleful suspicion, while younger people are wide-eyed and openly curious. As the evening progresses, I ignore the onlookers and start pulling out loose rocks one by one, peering into dark holes where millipedes and other bugs lurk. I am hoping to find the tiny cache before the night falls. According to the hint, the size of the cache is XS – a 35mm canister.
A few false starts and many mosquito bites later, I find it – a ruby red plastic canister attached to a small chain. I uncork it and find a pale white log sheet, rolled up with two one-dollar bills as a gift to the Geocacher. As a bonus, along with the cache, we also find a metal trackable. I enter my details in the log sheet and leave a little pencil as a gift for the next cacher.
I feel triumphant. I’m clutching my small metal tag with the same excitement as if I had found the Crown Jewels. What’s more, I will never look at city breaks in the same way again. Forget killing time in coffee shops or honing my flâneur skills in an unfamiliar city, the next time I’m away from home I’m going treasure hunting. It’s cool, fun and I feel like Indiana Jones every time I step out of the front door. Just like that, my mobile phone has transformed into a potent instrument that will take me on adventures that await in hidden corners around the world. Forget slaying virtual monsters with weird names, I’m going to find some real treasure.
A few days after I find the cache presumed lost by the last couple of cachers, I receive a message from the cache owner. “I am so glad the Chamundi cache was still there! Thanks for picking up my TB (Travel Bug), and please log it when you move it. Happy caching!” it reads.
The trackable I found at Chamundi will travel with me. I plan to plant it far, far away – and create a new adventure for another Geocacher.