Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sakleshpur trek - a memorable journey

It had been nearly 3 months since I went to Tadiandamol. Longing for a trek was at a high and so I couldn't miss golden chance for Sakleshpur, and more importantly a chance to go western ghats again. Infact, in the past two treks, I had heard trekkers praising highly of this place. And so, the journey began on May 20. Little could we have anticipated what followed.

Learning from Tadiandamol mistake, I reached the pick up point (Domlur) 15min early and nearly immediately spotted two trekkers and got in a conversation with them. Slowly I could see others filling up and understood why BMC had closed registration previous day itself. As ill-luck would have it, we had to wait more than an hour due to unforeseen issues at BMC office. We only wished that the trek wasn't called off.

And when the bus did arrive, one of us had gone to get water bottle which meant a bit more delay. I was pleasantly surprised to see Ram as last minute addition as an extra guide (making it three along with Muthu and 'talkative' Satya). After the remaining trekkers got in at the last pick up point, Satya immediately embarked on his 'talking' mission - meeting all of us individually and recalling some of us from previous treks. I was tired but as usual sleeping on the go was proving elusive. That the driver was in a tearing hurry (going in shortcuts to cover up for the delay) and seats not so comfortable added to the trouble.

We reached a spot(3km from Donigal station) around 5am, well before our expected time. We were not going to stay in an accommodation and hence we stopped there till day break and went to a hotel to freshen up and have breakfast. We reached Donigal around 8:15am. Satya, in his inimitable style, gave us the prep talk about the trek and then Ram got us going with a very funny warm-up.

Loading Mini-apartments

After the customary group photo, we started on our 16km mission on railway track, carrying tents and sleeping bags and MTR ready-to-eat packages. It really felt like mini-apartment, as Ram often terms it. But ofcourse, like any new trek or for newbies, the enthusiasm overrode the feeling of heavy-backpack. The Donigal station is about 5min walk from the highway. This was finally our real start to the trek, most of us taking a good look at the station as well as capturing it on camera.

Donigal Station

Walking 16km in itself was going to be tough - added to it was the challenge of walking on ballast (crushed stone) filled track. On many occasions though, the ballast were not filled to level of the pre-stressed concrete sleepers (the railing onto which the track is tied) and provided a sort of horizontal stairway. Walking on it was much preferable even though it had the danger of slipping and getting hurt. But once one gets used to it, it provides relief compared to walking on mix of concrete sleeper and ballast. Also, at few places, concrete walls were in place outside the track which again we took advantage to avoid walking on ballast. But, overall for more than 50-70%, my estimate, we had no way of escaping.

Our large group of 30 split into smaller groups, so the guides separated out into three regions - Muthu leading, Ram in middle and Satya bringing up the rear. Satya, fortunately likes taking care of the back group as he has to match slow pace of the group as well as be doubly sure to not leave behind anyone. The guides had walky-talky for co-ordination and early warning of train approaching from either side.

First few kms went off without much trouble. As is my wont, I slipped twice on the ballast, but escaped with only minor scratches. And very nearly would have damaged my new canon SX130-IS camera. The picturesque houses with mountains on the background made us envy the localities. After about 45min we came across the first bridge. We knew there were plenty to follow, but there's nothing like experiencing the crossing of railway bridge for the first time. A person with fear of heights might have found it tough to cross, but the newly constructed solid and wide-enough side-path of tracks provides both easy crossing as well as safety if a train comes along. Most of us proceeded to capture the bridge in the most bizarre angle possible as well as shooting through the gaps to highlight the depth. And within 10min came our first train 'interaction'. We made elaborate over-acting of reaching a safe spot. But soon enough few of us kept their ears on track to try and hear/feel the vibration. As we were near a curve, some daring in-front-of coming-train-pose were shot too. As for me, I took a video of the goods-train passing from close quarters in HD mode, which in retrospect feels silly.

 First Bridge
 Excited like a kid on train passing

The monotonous walk continued until about 20min when we came across a stream flowing. We rested to catch breath and relieve our shoulders of the increasingly feeling heavier back-pack. The stream was densely surrounded by thick vegetation and insects were making constant-irritating chirping sound. The chirping became part of the environment for most of our trek. After resuming our walk, we came across a bigger stream and this time with a bridge to cross. It was only 20min since the last break, but with sun-shining, we were getting tired and rested again. There was a jackfruit tree near the end of the bridge and some of us brought one fruit down. One member insisted on carrying the jackfruit right to Bangalore, but eventually sense prevailed and the fruit was left behind.

After about 10min, we reached the first tunnel - 239.20m. The tunnel was pretty nicely shaped and completely cemented on the insides. Muthu gave safety instructions and armed with torches, we excitedly went ahead. It became pitch-dark within few meters and we had to concentrate on the ballast and sleepers to carefully move ahead. There was a small opening before the tunnel ended which gave us good view of the western ghats and a beautiful gorge. We seemed to cross the tunnel too soon for our liking but when inside the tunnel all one can do is cross it soon enough to avoid any remote chance of getting caught inside with train crossing. The noise would have been terrible.

Crossing tunnel for the first time - by walk

Within 10 mins, we had crossed the two back-to-back tunnels including the time of clicking pics from the small opening. And almost immediately another bridge came. Time was only 11am, but we had already seen all variations - bridges and tunnels and bridges-with-streams-under-it. It became a boring routine - so we tried to walk faster with lesser rests and photo-shoots. I went nearly an hour without shooting (not a mean achievement for compulsive-photographer like me :P). At noon, we stopped for a big break and also to let the Sathya batch catch up.

We had stopped right before a bridge - this one longer than most others. There was a train scheduled to cross around that time. So in small batches, we crossed quickly, each time checking if train was near. The train seemed near but yet took an eternity to come. By then we all had crossed and in position to shoot another round of pics. This time it was an express train - most people waving their hands seeing us and we too waved back in earnest.

We soon reached Kadagaravalli - the only station between Donigal and Yedakumari. I was by this time at the front of our group and we were going past the station when the guides asked us to stop at the station. I thought lunch was to be taken - it was 12:30pm. But that meant we won't be having it near a stream. Soon it became clear that we were only resting again. There was an open water tap and we refreshed ourselves. Some of us took off the shoes, the walking had taken toll and it felt good by simply removing the shoes. The hot water from the tap helped too.

Refreshed from the break, we re-started the trek earnestly. For more than an hour we crossed a series of bridges and tunnels with more sightings of trains - this time a petroleum goods train. We came across perhaps the largest bridge with large stream flowing under. Peeping from the bridge was real scary and with wind blowing one had to be very careful. As with long bridges, there were railings on the side to stand incase of train passing. We spent lot of time taking snap here with different poses for our wallpapers. Just after the bridge came the largest tunnel of our trek - 569.18m. It was real thrill to cross more than half a km in darkness. Being accustomed to crossing inside tunnel, we trusted our brain to place our legs onto the next sleeper, while we focused our eyes on the small circle of light from the torch at 3-4 feet in front. Those 10 minutes were once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless ofcourse, I do this trek again :P)

Pretty long bridge - and a bit scary

After crossing the tunnel, we began searching for a bridge with stream under it. It had gone past 2pm and our stomachs were growling. We spotted a bridge with seemingly a manageable path to the stream but proved false. Meanwhile others had crossed the bridge to try from that end, which was successful. Heaving a sigh of relief, we reached a spot with rocks around to have our lunch. Some had bath in the stream, while some of us teared away at MTR packets. While they tasted awful (as we had no way of heating them), our hunger made it possible to eat them. There were large rocks from which the stream formed a small waterfall. This helped people like me take bath who didn't know swimming. The water was refreshing and the pounding of water on the body was a welcome massage for difficulties ahead.

We must have spent around 1-1.5 hours around the stream. We had a rough estimate of having trekked 10km and 6km to go. The Sun had started to play hide and seek and we were worried of reaching before possible rain. With no idea of how far the station was, or perhaps the guides purposefully didn't tell us, we were walking longer with less rests. Finally, just before 5pm, we sighted double train tracks - which meant the station was nearing. The tracks were taking a turn and when we finally sighted the station, Kumara Parvatha too came into view. Yedakumari was actually named as sister to Kumara Parvatha :D. (A valuable hint to whoever goes for this trek having read this blog - follow the milestone markers - it is roughly 51km at Donigal and 67km at Yedakumari..)

It was around 5pm. Relief and joy engulfed us. I was elated to see myself finishing a 16km trek. We dumped our back-packs unceremoniously on the platform and started photo-session with cloud-covered Kumara Parvatha in the back drop. I soon felt the tiredness creeping, and like others, laid down on the platform. My legs felt like ship anchors, I wondered if I would be able to trek the next day. After everyone had assembled, Satya mentioned that there is a nice stream further down the tracks. So after some rest, around 10 of them trudged to the stream. I was in two minds whether to go or not, as I was feeling really tired. But when few others started around 6pm, I couldn't resist and went along. It turned out that the stream was more than a km from the station. I half thought of returning mid-way, but that would have meant a bit of embarrassment :D. Reflecting back, it was rather well that I didn't go back midway.

Well earned rest
Kumara Parvatha ranges

The path to stream was tricky and steep. I slipped for a third time that day, and yet again escaped serious injury. In the process, I think I broke a tree branch that was there for support. Darkness was starting to creep in, but there was enough light for half-an-hour or so. Like the stream where we had our lunch, there were rocks which formed a mini waterfall with water gushing with enough speed for massage :D. It was a nice time spent gossiping in one of the most serene location with occasional train passages.

Around 7pm, we started back. The tracks were hardly visible in the twilight. And then the fun started - we had a running race on the tracks! And, even now astonished that I was able to run few 100 meters after all those tiring walks that day. Passing through a tunnel was really really dark, but the path had only a small tunnel. For rest of the way, I jogged/walked-fast to finally give my body an extended rest.

 Tents for sleeping - another first

By 8pm, we had set up tents on the platform. It was a first for me. For dinner, the remaining MTR were consumed. But I really couldn't have eaten them - the snacks I had brought along were the saving grace. There were hundreds and thousands of fireflies twinkling on the mountain rocks opposite the platform. They made such a beautiful sight that one could watch them for hours. But along with them, were irritating and loud insect chirping. Though we were used to them throughout the day, the noise level was really high here.

We had to get up early for the next day trek, but sleep was hard to come by. There was cloud cover which made us sweat inside the tent. Keeping the tent open was not an option due to snake scare. It was one heck of a troubled sleep. Tiredness got me through to around 5am, but no more. A train/engine had passed which woke me up. I came out of the tent, but the cloud cover still hovering meant that it wasn't cool even early morning. With time to kill, I started trying different modes in my camera with Kumara Parvatha.

For breakfast, it was bread - with very little butter/sauce. I had few more of the snacks and saved a little for day ahead. Around 7:30am, we started our trek - this time through the forest adjoining the station to reach highway. What a trek it was!

The forest known by Bisle is one of the famous rain forest in Western Ghats. Surrounded all around by mountains and Giri river separating the highway, it is one of the favorite among trekkers. The forest starts almost immediately behind the station. The path is small enough to allow only one person at a time. It was steep, slippery and bushes often coming in the way. But with frequent trekkers, the path in itself was clear cut. The station being at elevation, we were actually climbing down until first contact with a stream. Most of the vegetation was bamboo and elephants often 'climb' up for food. Muthu expertly watched for signs and soon enough found trampling of one as well as dung which obviously wasn't more than few hours old. We trekked with caution and as for me, I wished both not to be confronted and be confronted with elephant :P. While we were examining foot marks, someone near me showed me a leech - another first for me.

We took a short break at the stream. After which, we had to climb up a path which was wide enough for jeeps. It was the start of, well I am bored of writing it again and again, one of the memorable trek ever ;). Fallen leaves covered entire pathway filled with moisture. It is where the leeches thrive. At the start I didn't spot them and I didn't care about it. After awhile, people stopped and were busy checking their shoes and socks for leeches and removing them - that is when I checked mine and saw one merrily drinking my blood. I hastily removed it only to hear someone saying that I shouldn't have done that. My action left the wound opened - blood trickling. The leech when it bites, injects anesthetic and anti-coagulant. Anesthetic prevents us from knowing the pain - and thereby the knowledge of leech on our body. Anti-coagulant is what causes blood to trickle if we forcibly remove the leech. If the leech goes by itself, it will seal the wound, or if we apply spray like moov or salt-water we can force the leech to leave. One can push trouser end inside socks to prevent leeches from climbing up.

We were tired both from previous day's trek and meagre breakfast. We tried to cover as much as possible and stop at relatively dry areas to remove leeches sticking like glue to shoes and deftly moving to bite. The irritating insect chirping followed us here too. With elephant risk still looming, we had to keep the entire group within calling distance. But with leeches around, some of us wanted to finish the trek asap. Eventually, a pattern emerged, the ones in the front would cover some distance, stop till the group behind catches up and then move on. While waiting, we would tend to the leeches. Fatigue was creeping in, but thanks to the leeches, we kept walking. Along the way, we spotted colorful spiders, some of them even flying few cms and some group even spotted a young viper!

After covering about 3/4 the distance, we spotted an old tree broken and blocking the path way, which as I said before was wide enough for jeeps. Now, near the broken tree was a path going downwards which was the shortest route to reach the highway, but with enhanced risk of elephant. After much deliberation, we took the longer route. We must have covered around 1-1.5km along this path, when the guide told us that the path was much longer than expected and that we would have to retract. It was almost unbearable - tiredness, leeches, hunger, elephant risk, lack of water, heavy backpack and so on. With no choice, we walked back to the broken tree. And tell you what - in any trek, walking back a path is the most difficult thing to do. Somehow, our spirits are good enough as long we 'feel' that we are 'moving forward' in the 'right direction', no matter the distance. And it didn't help that some of the groups were only just reaching the tree spot after some of us had done a 2-3km detour.

The short-cut was worse - narrow, slippery and steep path with wetter leaves and fallen trees. We were back walking among trees (or forest if you like, somehow forest evokes an image of trees 'and' animals not 'insects and leeches'). Red-ants, big ones, got added to our growing risks :D. Being narrow path, we had to doubly make sure all groups were together - and so more frequent stops among the leeches! This route must have been another 2-3km. Halfway, we could hear the vehicles on the highway and we saw sunshine too. But it made humidity worse and our thirst increased.

After crossing another small stream, we finally emerged outta the forest to the leech-free stone-filled river bank. We removed our shoes one last time to free ourselves and washed our legs in the river. But water re-opened the leech bite and blood started trickling again :D. We gathered at the river crossing place after quite a bit of walking around the banks. Now came the best(most risky) part of the entire trip - crossing the river.

Due to the rains, stones in place to cross the river had washed out and steady inflow of water meant walking/swimming across the river was not an option. For more than an hour the three guides searched for a nice path where water won't be more than knee deep. During that time, we rested nicely under the shades of trees, applying dettol or skin ointments to the leech bites. Finally Muthu found a good spot around half-a-km from our resting place. But twist in the tale wasn't over for us... yet.

The crossing was about 100m or so and water was relatively still compared to earlier spot. Muthu showed to Ram how to cross and went off in search of our bus (as mobile tower was nil). Being satisfied, Ram took charge and Satya as usual brought up the rear. The idea was to form a human chain with Ram guiding after midway. There was a tree midway of our crossing and that is where the depth increases. The tree's trunk wasn't wide enough to walk freely on it and being under water, it was slippery too. Some of us boldly walked on it and others who were tall enough used the tree as support and went inside thigh-deep water. After crossing that section, one needed a little more support to pull one-self up to the bank as it was on a higher platform and the backpack/wet-heavy-trousers made it all more the difficult.

However, first half of the group could cross it without any alarms as the water level was still below our waists and water wasn't flowing fast enough. And then the problem started. There was sudden inflow of water raising both the water level and increasing the speed of flow of water. For some it became chest high. Backpacks were first passed on and one-by-one there was human chain formed near the tree trunk too. When only 3-4 were left - it happened. I was on the bank helping the ones reaching the bank to climb up. I saw Satya losing his footing and literally carried away by the water flow. I didn't know swimming and others had climbed up from the banks to highway. Ram left the ones near the tree trunks and swam to help Satya. Fortunately for Satya, he could get hold of another tree and waited till Ram reached him. What happened was Satya was carrying lots of baggage and one of the tents had got loose. Satya tried to catch it and in the process lost his footing. The water flow did the rest. Even though he knew swimming he would have found it tough to control his body movements unless he caught that tree. I was only thankful that I wasn't the unlucky one. But to his credit, Satya kept his cool and his presence of mind helped him. And he laughed off the incident saying it is another addition to his long list of misadventures!

River crossing - everlasting memory

And now the wait started for our bus to arrive. With no mobile signal, we were in principle crippled. With nothing to do, we changed clothes right near the highway :D We no longer cared for what the world thought - we had had a life changing experience :P. We kept our bags and towels and shoes and socks near the highway for drying. And talked and talked. For a brief time we even considered hiring a vehicle. But patience paid and our bus finally arrived. Both the driver and Muthu displayed their own presence of mind - the driver, seeing that there was no tower at the agreed spot where the guide had said would meet, went to another spot where he could get signal. Muthu, for his part, brought with him bananas for temporary relief from hunger. I can vouch that those were the most tastiest bananas I ever had.

After lunch, we settled nicely for a nap. But the driver had more in store - he put an excellent video/audio quality movie : 3-idiots. What a timing. For one, we laughed throughout the movie, even though most of us had already seen it. For another, the theme of the movie advising to pursue our interests fit very well with our trek experience. A particular dialogue which resonated was the one related to fooling our hearts - what is difficult is only relative - I am used to around 3km walk everyday for office, however I was also able to do 18km trek on a day - just because I love it! Looking forward to more such treks ;)


Unknown said...

Intresting. I enjoyed reading ur adventure.

Unknown said...

U could visit dudhsagar trek too... Its better den dis