I found myself sitting on the bus to Munnar from Kochi at one thirty in the morning of a calm Saturday along with some thirty other people. We were all going for a trek from Munnar to Kodaikanal, starting from Top Station in Munnar to Vattakanal in Kodaikanal. Believe it, it was a long and winding path. Grueling at times and it really pushed us to our limits.
We reached Munnar by six in the morning and took a few rooms nearby to freshen up and do our morning chores. Some more people were to join us and we were waiting for them to arrive. By that time we had our breakfast and also socialized with the group. The gang had a total of thirty nine people, a huge gang to be fair. And it would be really difficult to talk and socialize with each and everyone in a span of two days. The time was just not enough. I took the time to roam around nearby and enjoy the chill climate of Munnar. The sun was coming up and the day was slowly getting hotter.
As soon as we all finished up getting ready, we went ahead to catch our bus to Top Station. Just an hour’s ride in the bus. The bus became full with our people and we started off. The bus took us through the winding roads besides pristine green tea estates that Munnar is famous for. Hills covered with the small lush green tea bushes could be seen stretched out and occupying mist of the landscape. The tea workers could be seen collecting tea leaves and interacting with the tourists who stop here to click lots of pictures and selfies. The scenery was perfect for a relaxing day. Blue skies, a hint of clouds, greenery everywhere and a calm and pleasant climate. What more can you ask for.
Our journey too was fun filled. We became friendly with the conductor and soon he was slicing us pieces of raw mangoes and sharing with us. People were talking and laughing with each other and jokes were being cracked from one end of the bus to the other. That one hour went in a jiffy and we were soon getting down in Top station. We were caressed by the sweet mist that was lulling around the streets of Top station and it was a pleasant feeling. It made me almost wear my jacket but since we were to trek and our body was only gonna heat up, I decided against it, which was a good decision.
After having a cup of hot tea, taking our packed lunches with us and being introduced to our guide, we started our trek. Few among us had befriended a foreigner and he had accompanied us to Top station and here he posed for some snazzy pics and that its. I have no clue where he went and all but he was a funny chap.
Day 1: Top Station to Kurangani
Our trek had officially begun and the first day consisted of a good downhill portion of 13 kms to our base camp. Downhill was good. Less effort but more strain on the thighs and legs. We had to careful of the way too as it might have been slippery owing to the afternoon rains that have been lashing these parts for quite some days now. We were told to expect some rain in the afternoon but we were skeptical seeing the bright blue skies. On the way we found the company of two street dogs who accompanied us almost till the end. They were our bush masters. And so we continued to the long and winding path.
Initially the trail was covered with trees and small shrubs, all green and vibrant. Little settlements can be seen along the way, the kids playing around and enjoying the holiday. The trail was well made and it was evident that the path was a regularly used one. Everyone was enjoying the scenery and clicking photos of it as well as their friends and fellow trekkers. The charm the hills and the flora had on us was amazing and we were really sucked into the beauty of the landscape. The Western Ghats were such a beautiful thing and we all might have gone exploring some part it in their lives at least once. And yet again here we are, exploring a different part of it, starting from its top to its bottom and then back to its top. The Ghats were lively too since it had been receiving rainfall for the past few days and so life was beeming with energy and vibrance here.
Walking for an hour, we began to traverse along the edge of a hill and it was through this path that would wind is down and down into the valley below. The landscape changed, it was more like a meadow than a forest type vegetation. Golden yellow thickets of grass dotted the hill sides along with the green of some trees and bushes. To the other side, was the abyss, a chasm that went deep down in a slope. The other side of this chasm saw some jagged rocks spring forth and they exhibited their muscularity with pride. Little vegetation dotted them, and they had sharp rocks protruding from their faces, inviting rock climbers to give them a go and see if they can be conquered. It actually added a beauty to the whole scenario because beyond this lay another section of the Ghats and that was fully covered in green and the clouds could be seen playing along it. These rocky structures stood out alone in this landscape, carving a name and respect for themselves.
Treading through the meadows was real fun. We would stop at places were the hill took an abrupt dip and here scores of photos and selfies were taken by the mob. Some of them had walked on ahead at a good pace and now they could be seen sitting and catching their breath at the base of the dip, visible to us like miniature beings. I too reached the dip and took a rest, enjoying the awesome view nature had to offer me. I was surrounded by hills all around me. They were huge and imposing and they were in a playful mood. The mist had began to form and clouds could be seen hanging on to the tip of these hills, covering their tops so that we couldn’t get an idea of their greatness, occasionally revealing themselves thereby making us want to see and feel them even more. The sky was turning to grey and a downpour was eminent. When and how long it would last was a really good question. We hoped the way down would not be treacherous to tread when it rains.
We had moments of entertainment when we sat at this point. Now the hill before this was steep and people had to be cautious while treading it downhill. At one point you might have treaded it at such a speed that you can come to the base running at a brisk pace. This was exciting until you don’t fall. And we being the sadistic creatures we were, we were rooting to see some action here, someone taking a good tumble. Just for the fun of it. And guess what our prayers were answered. We witnessed a beautiful tumble that defied all odds. Luckily he wasn’t hurt, only his pride. And he very well knew that he would be a subject of talk in the trekking days. Loads of Malayalam comedy scenes were imposed on him and he became a subject for trolls for the group. This even followed to our whatsapp group and I am pretty sure none of us will forget the tumble we witnessed, especially him.
We waited till everyone came, had some snacks and off we went ahead. All downhill path with some slight uphill climb as we traversed one hill to the other. Soon we found ourselves in a very small village, maybe five-six houses, that’s it. But the house that welcomed us had sharbath to offer us. We all were happy seeing this and we took the time to drink some sharbaths and nibble on whatever was there in the shop. We decided to have our lunch here as it was time and there was still two more hours of trekking to do. Also our guide was feeling hungry and he had opened his lunch packet and had started it. So we ate our lunch which consisted of chapattis and curry. As soon as we finished our lunch and posed for a group photo, the rains hit us and it was picking pace. There was no point in waiting for it slow down or come to a stop. So we all donned our raincoats and covers and set out in the rain to our base camp. The path was laid out with stones and so the chances of slipping was bare minimum. The path was the only path available too and it was a long and winding path. The rain increased its fury and was now beating down upon us with might. We felt cold and wet but we still kept on going. The land had acquired a sense of freshness and the hills were rollicking the rains. Rains in the month of March was hard to fathom but nowadays the climate had changed and no one could predict what the weather would be like for the next few days. It had become totally uncertain.
Treading for hours we finally reached a point where we found our guide standing and directed us to take the path through the outcrop. This path was totally raw and to be frank it felt like there was no way at all and that we had to make our own way and go. I slipped in this path as the soil had became very slippery owing to the rains and so did most of us. I think everyone took at least one tumble in this path. This was a complete off-road trek. No proper paths to follow, just a hunch seeing the earth around to and deciding to follow it. And finally we say a building in the clearing. A two storied building. It was more like a outpost that had two rooms in it that were being built. Happiness were evident in our faces as this signaled we were close to our destination. We climbed to the top of the building and looked around. The hills looked magnanimous around us. All were wet and green and throbbing with life. Clouds had descended onto them and a misty mountain feel was present. We enjoyed this scenery, took it to our hearts and off we went. The base camp was just five minutes’ walk from this point and we were so happy to see the tents made and kept ready for us. Yuppiieeee. We had successfully finished our first day of trek. We were dirty and wet and cold but a sense of accomplishment prevailed us all as we reached our base camp which was at Kurangani.
We settled ourselves here and we all longed for a bath. A waterfall was running nearby and we thought we could go there and have a bath. So we decided to check it out after a cup of hot tea/coffee and some goodday biscuits. Feeling warm we went to take a bath only to return back disappointed. Due to the heavy rainfall, the water was all muddy and the flow was really strong. There was also no proper way to get into the water and it was really muddy and unclean. We had to resort to the bathrooms available to us to take our baths. Then plans were made to have some beer and one among us took the duty to collect the money and provide us with some warmth for the night.
Night dawned upon us. People were talking away, making new friends, teasing each other and cutting away time. Laughter could be heard from various groups and all were in a mood to rest for the rest of the day. Soon it was dinner time and we indulged ourselves in chapattis and rice with chicken curry, cabbage thoran, vegetable korma and pickle. Soan papdi was also served for the sweet and all were happy to have their tummies filled to satisfaction. Some called it a day and went to sleep while others stayed back for some time to talk and enjoy the mood. Some were in a state of flying and they were enjoying this. And as we were waiting for the beers to come, it was decided to have a small ice breaking session.
A game of cube, horse and storm in the middle of a desert. If I had to explain as to what happened there, it would take a long time and so I will summarize it. It was a psychological game that eventually showed how you responded to some thoughts and thus gives a picture of your inherent mentality. The result was some hilarious descriptions of cubes, the horse and the storm and the way they interacted with each other. Some visualized the cube to be a Rubik’s cube, one had a huge cube with holes in it. One had an ice cube in the middle of the desert and horse was licking on it. Someone’s cube was riding the horse, someone’s horse was jumping through the holes in the cube. Another guy was building a cube. Someone had the Ice Cube as his cube, the American actor. Oh boy! The storm was furious in most cases. Some people’s storm was passive and solved their Rubik’s cube. Oh it was damn hilarious. And the end result was that the person who organized this was nicknamed ice cube and he was addressed by this name the whole of the next day. The beer had come along. We enjoyed it and soon began talking about stuff. It was getting late and we had to get up by four in the morning so I took my leave after blabbering out some philosophy and life lessons.
Day 2: Kumbakara Waterfalls to Vattakanal via Vellakavi village
We were all woken up by Vishnu at four in the morning and instructed us to get ready for the day. By five we were all ready and out of our tents to trek the last leg. We started from Kurangani in autos and a van and they drove us for nearly one and a half hour to Kumbakara waterfalls. It was form here that we were to take on our second and final day of trek. Only 16 kms of uphill trek to Vattakanal. That’s it. We came together for a group photo and off we started. The landscape was dry and the morning sun was slowly rising up. It was evident that it would be a hot and sunny and so water was of most importance.
We had been given our packed breakfast from Kurangani before we started and after a small distance, we stopped by a small water body to eat it. It was lemon rice and it wasn’t appetizing at all. But hunger and the need for energy in the later stages of the trek prompted us to eat whatever we could. Some saved it for a future use and this proved great for some people who were dying of hunger. This leg of our trek was hard and arduous. The terrain was completely hilly and the landscape was completely dry and withered. So we were all subjected to the scorching heat of the sun and we were sweating away quickly and water was being consumed at a great pace. A great distance had been formed between the front and the rear end. Some found it really difficult to trek in these conditions and took rest in between and slowly climbed on.
Everyone trekked at their own pace and soon it became a trek of endurance. We were also carrying our luggage with us and this was adding extra weight. Our shoulders were bearing an extra burden and this surely did lessen the pace for some of us. We were running out of water and we were asking for anyone who passed us by as to how much more it was to the next place where we can get some water. But despite all this, we pushed on. We had found a place where a small stream flowed past and we took some time out to enjoy pouring water onto our heads and have a refreshing feel. We stocked our water from here and on we went. Our next destination was to be Vellakavi village, a small settlement where we were bound to get something to eat and drink.
We reached here and delved into the village in search of food and something to drink. They offered us coffee and biscuits and peanuts and we gorged on this to satisfy our developing hunger and our thirst. We all took some rest here and then started for the next leg. This was another 8 kms of uphill trek. The villagers said they take normally two hours to trek this stretch but for us it might take nearly three hours. They were right.
The people in Vellakavi village had only this route to depend on their needs. There were no roads to lead them either to Vattakanal or Kumbakara waterfalls. It was astonishing to hear the existence of such a village in these times. They transported their materials and essential items from Vattakanal in horsebacks and sometimes they carried them too. Even for proper medical facilities they had to walk these two hours to reach Vattakanal and see a doctor. For them this was their way of life and they had succumbed to it.
We started off soon as rain clouds had began to form and rain was imminent. So it would be better if we could cover the maximum distance possible before it rains. The landscape had changed now. We were trekking through a forest cover and it was glowing green with happiness. The terrain here too was uneven and there was no proper path to tread. We say the locals on the way going back to the village with their rations and materials maybe for the week, some even employing horses to carry the load. The pace at which they were walking was very high and we knew we would take at least an hour more than them to reach our destination. By four we were halfway only and it started to rain. Again we tucked in out raincoats, pulled on our bag covers and slowly started to trek. It was a heavy downpour and soon we were all cold and wet and our spirits were dying slowly. But we had to reach our destination, there was no backing away now. No other way to go to and so you could say we were forced to reach our endpoint.
As we were nearing Vattakanal eucalyptus forest started and this gave us hope as we were nearing our destination. Looking down into the valley, we can see from where we started and it was quite far down. We had come this far, the remaining too we will conquer. The rains ceased and the mist began o envelop us. Soon we could hear the sounds of tourists who came to the echo point and dolphins nose point. Yes we were nearing civilization and it was a great feeling. Finally we reached the echo point and here we took time out to eat some hot bread omlette, Maggi, hot and piping tea and much on whatever biscuits and cake we can get our hands on. We were ecstatic to have our cold banished and our hunger satisfied to a certain extent. We felt more lively and this really bumped up our spirits to climb the last miles of our trek.
Half an hour more of trekking and we finally reached our destination. Woooohoooooo………….. Never felt so much of joy and happiness in my life. There was a sense of accomplishment too. Yes I was wet and cold, my things were sore and my shoulders were aching too but all this was washed down by the shot of adrenaline you get when you complete something successfully. Hurrah.
Some people had reached by four and had avoided the rains. I reached near to six and still there were many more left behind us. It was nearly quarter past eight when the final batch arrived. We made it a point to welcome all those who came with loud cheering and wishes. It was pure fun and encouraging. Everyone had finished the trek successfully, a grueling trek with nature unleashing its fury at times in the form of a hot and dry climate with the sun striking hard followed by a heavy downpour and some cool mist to make us shiver and tremble. But we dug deep into ourselves and found the energy to move forward and complete what we started out to. We all learnt many life lessons through his trek that I am sure of. And we also made a ton of memories and clicked some amazing photos. We basked at the beauty of nature and enjoyed the elements to the fullest. We all lived our lives and felt more alive.
Someone asked me why I travel. I travel because I love to. Travelling liberates me to an extent. It shows me a new world, it takes me close to nature. Every place I travel to has something to offer to me, some memory or life lesson. I take in all that I can. And trekking is one awesome way to experience nature at its best. You are tested in every step you take through the various terrains that you encounter. You might feel exhausted and might reach a point of giving up. But you still take that hard step ahead to your goal. Not because you want to , because you have to. Because it is the need of the hour.