Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kuntibetta Night Trek - February 11, 2012

First trek of this year and the place a long awaited one. For some reason or the other, I kept missing the Kuntibetta trek - be it the weekend MS studies or coinciding with trips to home. Having done a night trek before with BMC, I marked this one as the third semester was nearing to its conclusion. The wait was certainly worth it.

The fun started right from the 130-odd km tempo journey to Pandavapura, where the hill is located. After crossing the city limits, a fellow trekker enthusiastically suggested that we play mafia (a game I got acquainted with during the Wayanad cycling trip). Though the rules were different, the essence of the game was same, We played two rounds, the second one lasting much longer as many first timers got the hang of it after the first round. It certainly is a good way for time pass and served as ice-breaker too. And the best thing about it was that all the twelve people in the tempo participated.

At the base of Kuntibetta

We arrived at the base of Kuntibetta at around 1 AM. About 30-40 trekkers had come, conforming the popularity of the place. Ofcourse,we twelve continued to be together for the climb. Sleeping bags were provided for those who wanted. I had brought a thermocot and was adamant in staying awake the whole night. So, I didn't take one and was happy to have reduced luggage. We started the climb at around 1:30 AM after going around a small pond. The climb was steady for around half an hour before we came to a steep rock. The guides had brought ropes for the purpose. It was my first experience of climbing with the help of a rope. Though it was barely 10-15 feet, it wasn't easy. There was relatively flat rock after it where we took a break for refreshments and photo-shoots.

Short break after the rope climb

It took us another 40 minutes (1 hour 10 minutes overall) to reach the top. It is a short trek. But it certainly was enjoyable as we crossed small hills to the top. And one point, we diverged from the actual path to stand on a small cliff. I don't quite remember how big the moon was, but we had to be careful with our footsteps. There were some slippery climbs too, where we helped each other to cross.

Quickly various groups settled down for the remaining three-odd hours for the dawn. After customary photo shoots, we started with snacks to settle our temporary hunger. The air was chill and I was starting to feel bad about not bringing the sleeping bag. I had the thermocot, but decided to not put on for the moment. After we had settled down proper and satisfied our stomachs, it was time to kill time. We had already done surveying of the villages below and enjoying far-off lights. As it happens mostly, we started telling stuff from our lives. As usual when my turn came, I told some of my trekking experiences. One guy shared his childhood spent in an African country. It was good enough for novel or a movie. How they had attacks, how they survived so fortunately, their journey back to India. I told him that time and it's true so far - I will remember his account for a long time.

I was actually sitting away from the group with music on my mobile, looking around the hill. The voice had carried to me clearly and it was only later that they knew I was listening. After everyone had their say, they prepared to sleep. I spent the remaining hours in solitude, wondering among other things, why should life be there and whether or not we had a choice before coming into existence. At some point before dawn, I put on the thermocot as it became very cold.
 
Starting the descent

We started our descent 15 minutes before 6AM. We took a different route after sometime as we were headed to the lake at the base. It was almost a two hour hike. Having not slept whole night and hunger made it difficult. And after reaching the lake, I didn't like the idea of stepping into cold water. The life-jackets took time to arrive and I don't know swimming. That made it easier to decide at the time, but looking back I feel that I missed out :D. Overall a nice trek to start the year with.

Time pass while others enjoyed the lake

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A wish granted

Right from childhood, aeroplanes (wikipedia tells me that it means 'wandering in air' in Ancient Greek) have fascinated me. The irresistible sound of whirring high among the clouds would inevitably draw my eyes to spot them and follow until they became smaller and smaller and disappear around the earth's curvature. And if happened to be a jet, the eyes would follow the vapor trail and continue to stare long after the jet had disappeared. Helicopters were fascinating too. We used to think dragon-fly were helicopters for ants! Once one copter flew so low in our neighborhood that it seemed as big as a bus. The sound was deafening.

The stories about friends having experienced air travel were no less interesting. Whole chocolate bundle offered free of cost was too preposterous to not believe. Days were spent on building imaginations on that single fact. And so naturally I was excited to be traveling by aeroplane when the opportunity knocked doors in February 2010. To my dismay though, I didn't get a window seat. Not once but both up and down.

But fate decided to repay me with bonus. This June, on the way to Delhi, I got my first window seat journey in a flight. Not without drama though. Before even I could ask for my seat preference, I was allotted an aisle slot. I asked for window seat and the lady at the counter with practiced smile changed the seating arrangement. She said that it would be a seat near the rearside of the aeroplane. The boarding pass still had the aisle seat number. As I went in, I realized that. I sat in window seat of the same row in hope that it was the reallocated seat. But soon, another person claimed it. He and I had the same seat number. A youth in the back seat began ranting his theory that these low fare flights are usually over-booked. For few anxious moments I was scared that I would be denied a seat in the flight, let alone a window seat. The flight attendants soon sorted out and found my reallocated seat number. It was last but one row in the rear-side. It was double relief.

Contrary to my first impression, backseat offers better window viewing as it is far removed from the annoying-view-blocking-wings in the middle. A nice cushion allowed me to recline towards the window for longer viewing. Though after some time neck pain started and I couldn't keep my head turned left all the time through the 150+ minutes of sailing among the clouds. The continuous staring was also painful on the eye due to the sunlight. On the return flight too I got a window seat, this time given without my asking. But it was right in the middle close to the wings and viewing was more blocked than visible portion. And coming from North to South in morning means the Sun directly shines on the left side of the plane, where I was seated. So for most part, I kept the window shut and slept a while too from exhaustion.

Here's a list of wonderful things I got to observe from the window seats. Took some photos too, carefully avoiding flight attendants :P
  • Clouds everywhere! Below, above, far off, clouds in all directions. Though it was monsoon season, I didn't spot sea of monsoon clouds until the return journey. If only we could go swim in them ;) Sometimes after passing through a cloud and emerging out, I could see the mist drying away on the wings.
  • I did get to see raining clouds once, though being far, it wasn't a good view.
  • A strange mirage was brownish cloud far-off to the view. With blue sky around, for long time I thought it was an island surrounded by clear water. Only nearing it showed them to be brown clouds which seemed to be land
  • With so many clouds around, nearing noon time I got to see a wonderful spectacle - a circular rainbow! Before I could take a snap though, the view passed.
  • After a while during the first flight, I started making a wish list of things to see. One of them was seeing mountains, specially western ghats and Himalayas. Ofcourse Himalayas was out of question for this trip, I did get to see a range a mountains, Not sure if it was western ghats, but there was ample forest cover and bare stone peaks
  • Not sure if could be called a forest, but once I got to see dense cover of trees. They seemed to arranged methodologically. It provided a change of scene from seeing long stretches of polygonal lands of different brown shades. The polygonal lands dominated most of the landscape, villages, towns and cities seemed to be sparse. Made me wonder how skewed the price of a piece of land were depending upon where they are located to human settlement
  • One of the best views was that of a river running almost parallel to the flight's path. The width of the river seemed so small from above, but surely must have been hundreds of feet wide. And seeing two branches of the river meeting was certainly special
  • On nearing Delhi, I was appalled seeing the scores of concrete jungle with almost no greenery. Highways and railways came in view. I prayed to see train moving. I was to be disappointed for long. None seemed to be running just at that time. I did spot a goods train standing in a station. It looked so toy like that I wanted to grab them. The journey rounded off neatly when I spotted a metro train moving :)















There were perhaps many other interesting things I saw and don't remember now. I was all charged up during the journey to write about it, but I have been my lazy self all these months. Anyway, here is my wishlist:
  • To see flock of birds flying from above
  • Cyclone, thunder and heavy rain from dark black clouds
  • Wish there were boats made to float on clouds ;)
  • Waterfall, especially all the water gushing towards the cliff
  • Entire stretch of Western ghats and that too from only hundreds of feet above rather than kilometers
  • Another flight far off
  • and many more, waiting for my next window seat journey
I will end the post with an observation. How much ever Google boosts up its map/earth service, it will never match a view from aeroplane. Plus the eye vision is wider compared to cramped up computer screen :) Do mention your wishlists in the comment if you like :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Waynad Escapade

A secret(unknown to my parents i.e) 10+km ride to a friend's house in 7th standard of my school days was longest I had ever ridden on a bicycle. And when my office relocated, I gave up cycling to work. I found 4.5km pedaling through the dreary old Madras road unappealing and beyond my body fitness compared to the 2km pleasant ride I was used to for about 6 months. It was in Tadiandamol that I first heard of CAM through a fellow trekker. I was amazed that such a club existed. A desire to be part of it seeped in me. About 8 months later, another BMC trek (Horagina Betta), I was reminded again. The divine intervention finally came when a fellow trekker asked if I was interested in 130+km drive around Waynad arranged by CAM.

The main pick-up point was near the Hockey stadium in Shantinagar. By 10pm, Nov 25 2011, we had all gathered and chatted waiting for the bus and two canters (support vehicles to carry bicycle when we aren't cycling). I had opted for rented bike as I didn't have one of my own. There was a light, steady drizzle, a precursor to the two days ahead. As the discussions progressed, I realized that here were people crazy about cycling not different from many of crazy trekkers I had met. I was excited and hoped that I would like cycling as much as trekking. I wasn't disappointed.

At Bandipur - starting our ride

Early morning around 4:30AM, we stopped on the way to Bandipur at Gundlupet to freshen up. After breakfast around 7:30AM, we started our ride - armed with maps for the day and energy rations. The guides had briefed on how to use the geared bikes along with list of Do's and Don'ts. One of the canter led the party and the other brought up the rear. Riding after so long, I struggled to keep the cycle in balance initially. Gradually got used to the geared bike and then I could enjoy the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary. I got to see some peacocks, spotted deers and elephants. Nice road and weather added to the charm.
 
'Spotted' Deer and Peacock

Very soon, the exhaustion started as I wasn't used to long rides. A few breaks and already I was the last rider with only the coordinator behind. It didn't help that my muscle strength ain't so good to ride fast, let alone the unfamiliarity of long rides in geared bikes. Unlike in trekking, I had to focus more on cycling and road leading to limited view of surrounding. But perhaps being alone reduced distractions and I was able to keep peddling for longer stretches, most times mentally overriding the urge to stop and rest. Steady and continuous progress helps in body adjusting to the strains better than frequent stops. Having tea at one of the breaks was like revitalizing the body with magical powers.
 



On the way to lunch point

We had to cover about 45km in the morning session. Being close to 3000 feet above sea level, the weather was cool with short spells of slight drizzling. We passed through beautiful mountain curves, sometimes satisfyingly on a downhill across scores and scores of tea plantations. Gudalur was definitely a picturesque town. The village folks and town people alike were mostly curious whenever a procession of us crossed them. Some kids spotting us from a distance would group together, waiting for us to come nearby ready with questions to ask. Most of the times it was - "Where are you coming from?" or "Where are you going?". Sometimes, a family would stand outside their home with kids waving their hands looking at us pass by - reminding me of similar routine when we are traveling by train close to households. Occasionally, we would wave back, much to the delight of such families or school students on the road. The best I liked was their tendency to point our way forward at a turn - avoiding inconvenience of having to refer the map or stopping to ask for directions.

As I approached the last 10-15km stretch before the lunch point, pedaling became increasingly difficult. Forget the uphills, where some of us resorted to push the cycle, even the flat ones were difficult. Not being familiar with changing of gears appropriately also hampered the progress. But there were certain stretches, where little extra pushes now and then to keep going culminated towards decent downhills and helped in not falling behind too far. Like in cricket, momentum is very important. Finally about 3-5km from the lunch spot, me and few others gave up near an uphill and got into the canter. We were so exhausted that even pushing the cycle was not an option. And back-ache compounded my case.

By the time I reached lunch point in canter, the experts had finished their lunch and leaving for next part. At that point I wondered if I would ever want to do a cycling trip again. However, lunch, moov spray and resting lifted my mood. I was even more determined to not hop onto the canter for atleast the rest of the ride that day. I started cycling again, with few still behind which gave me that much more leeway of time to complete. The back ache was soon forgotten and I concentrated in cycling as fast as I could. After about 15-20km, I felt pretty happy with myself as I wasn't at the end of line and feeling good for more. However, as I tried to keep pedaling fast, at some point I felt legs shaking with pain. I immediately stopped aside, had 200ml of tropicana and rested. Thankfully, there wasn't any damage and I could continue.

The stretches towards the end did become tough again, but inspired by others around, I kept going and the fruit was reaching Sultan Bathery by myself. CAM had booked an awesome resort for the night stay. It was still around 4pm only, as total distance till Sultan Bathery was only 80km. Expert riders had an additional option of going to Edakkal caves and be back - around 25km more with difficult uphills too. Most of us stayed put in the resort. After freshening up, we watched the last stages of the 3rd test match between India-WI. It ended in a tense draw with scores level and we all cursed MS Dhoni for his slow batting. But that was all soon forgotten as we hit the swimming pool in the resort. The water was very cold, but after initial dips, the body adjusted well. We had the pool all by ourselves. Perhaps others in the resort weren't that interested.

After an hour or so of rest, we were to walk to a nearby hotel for dinner. The walking proved more difficult than the pedaling of whole day. The legs were that stiff. After 1-2 minutes of struggling only we could do something close to walking. And obviously once we returned from dinner, we slept as if we hadn't for months. Early morning around 5AM we got wake up calls in form of CAM coordinators hitting the door-bell. The bodies were still stiff but the rest had raised our spirits and away we went with renewed energy.
 

Starting the ride on second day

Much like the first day, I struggled to match pace with majority of the group. However, I was content to be cycling at all compared to the feeling on first day's lunch point. The roads were patchy initially and at one stretch only mud road wet with rain. After about 20km, we reached Vaduvanchal after which the road was a beauty. Guess it was a national highway, but the traffic wasn't much. Riding was far far easier and road had less of ups and downs. For about 12km leading to Meppadi, we enjoyed the best part of the ride. Even with stiffness, I could ride much much faster than earlier. The balance was also good to do hands-free riding for decent stretch of 200-300m. Certainly, this portion of the event will remain memorable for long.
 



Soochipara Falls

Waynad being along the way made it even more pleasing. The tea plantations were more pronounced. However, the workers were perhaps shy/angry for us to take a picture of them. After Meppadi, the road became progressively patchy and uphills returned with vengeance. Along the way, I had started feeling some leg pain too. Though the desire to finish the ride was there, I just couldn't continue about 5km from Soochipara Falls - the end point. This last stretch had steep ups and downs and roads very patchy. While in canter, I even got hit with nearby cycle at a bump and got scratches :-/

Last 0.5-1km, the road to the Falls was even worse that the canter could not proceed further. So we had to go trekking up the hills which again was painful. After some snacks, we got tickets to the waterfalls only to discover that we had walk another km or so! But it was worth it all - the Falls was magnificent. Though the large crowd made it difficult to find comfortable spots. The water was very cold - almost ice cold and that too at noon. But we spent such a long time there that it was around 3pm when we started back to Bangalore. On the way back, I got to play the Mafia game for the first time which is feeling funny now that I recall. When we stopped for a tea break, I found walking even more difficult. But the experience of 120+km cycling was definitely worth it all.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Trek to Horagina Betta - 8 Oct, 2011

As has become my customary, I did a short one-day trek after the exhilarating trek to western ghats (Kodachadri). For the fourth time running. Kiran was the guide from BMC. Horagina Betta is near the famous Nandi hills in Chickballapur. The trek's starting point was halfway on the Nandhi hills road. The group size was around 20-25, two of them I knew from previous treks.

Starting the trek - off Nandi hills road
 
Tough initial climb

After the usual prep talk from Kiran, we started our climb at around 9:20AM, with Sun playing hide and seek in humid conditions. Wild grass and bushes, some tall as us, some thorny, greeted us unwillingly. No wonder we were the first batch of BMC on this trail. One hour into the trek and we were already sweating, a bit exhausted and stopped under the shade of a large rock. We could see the peak intermittently, taunting us. From an angle, it looked like an elephant sleeping on its belly, its four legs stretched and a tree growing taller than others on the back for the tail. After 15 minutes of rest for refreshments and snaps and some trek-gossip, we renewed our quest in arid conditions.

Elephant, no?

Scenery to our right

The bushes grew wilder and as we gained altitude, we spotted Nandi hills with its mobile towers to our left. To our right, were small hills and lakes and villages surrounded by greenery all around. And within twenty minutes, we took the next break, this time overlooking a cliff to the right. By Kiran's estimate, we were half-way to the top. After that, the breaks became more frequent, what with steep climb and humidity in arid conditions.

Still a long way to go

Frequent rest en-route

Finally, after two-and-a-half-hours of climb, we reached the peak to our collective relief. However, we continued beyond the peak to the other side to find a good spot for lunch. We went past a temple that is visited frequently by villagers nearby. This temple can be seen from peak of Nandi hills too. I remember myself spotting it on my earlier visit to Nandi hills and wondering at that time if the climb was difficult. Well, I had my answer.

Hills all around - Nandi hills on the right

Not finding a good shady place, we trekked back and finally settled under trees growing around the edges. After lunch, it was a long session of snaps with cliffs and around. Some took to sleeping under the trees. After about an hour of relaxation, we started our decent.

Some wild insects on the way back

Unlike the tough terrain we got on our climb, the descent on the other side (facing Nandi hills) was easier with well defined path, perhaps from the frequent visit to the temple through this route. However, at one spot, the wild bushes were a nuisance, several meters tall and thickly populated making our passage difficult. After that, it was a normal climb down on rocky surface and sparse forest. Within one-and-half-hour we reached the base and joined the Nandi hills highway. We waited under a tamarind tree while the tempos came to pick us up. All in all, yet another good trek with BMC.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Heavenly trek to Kodachadri

From the time I got addicted to trekking, Kodachadri was amongst the must do list. And so, during the perfect weather for any western ghats trek, on Friday evening, Sep 22 - 2011, I embarked on what now is one of my favorite trekking experience. The starting signs were themselves great. Not attending 'torturing' weekend MS class was in itself a treat which was boosted by the unexpected holiday which meant I could take off another weekend. The tempo from BMC was on time. I had an almost instant rapport with fellow trekkers which was one of the defining aspects of the wonderful trek. Plus, one of the guide was Kiran with whom I had already done two treks. All in all, it was like an action movie beginning with a bang.

We reached our home stay at the base of Kodachadri early in the morning around 6:30 AM. We were a group of around 25. Among the trekkers, I knew only one from my previous trek (Sakleshpur). Perhaps whenever we meet, it turns out to be an awesome trek? :P. I had previously seen senior people (aged 50+) in treks, but this time I got to see a six year kid scaling a peak in Western Ghats. I was a bit skeptical initally, but then I came to know that he had already scaled Kumara Parvatha! He was a live-wire throughout the trek - another fab aspect of the trek. Not to forget mentioning - the foreigner from South Africa who had allocated an entire year for adventure trip around the world.

Starting from home stay towards trekking spot

The home stay was atypical of the western ghats - pipe connection from running stream, ample gardening around the house, first-class hospitality and tasty breakfast. Leaving extra baggage and having packed lunch, we started around 8:30AM. The tempo took us to the starting point of the trek and we were fortunate to send our sleeping bags and tents along with a vegetable carrying jeep to our home stay at peak. After the customary prep talk from Kiran (and another guide) and photo shoots, we were on our way to the peak.



Assembling at the trek spot followed by prep talk by guides

Crossing the stream into the forest

We started initially on the jeep track and diverged after about 20min by crossing one of the numerous streams into the jungle route. And ofcourse into the leeches. Many of us walked through the stream with the shoes getting wet while a few clever ones removed the shoes and put them back after crossing. I had trekked with wet shoes in Thirumaleguppi, so I didn't give it a thought. It would trouble me the next day.

Out of the forest - first thing to do is remove leeches

The small village and cultivation land on our way

We were immediately treated with fallen trees covered with moss and flat mushroom, ferns, new leaves sprouting, fallen leaves, double-faced Rudraksha, noisy insects, leeches, etc. There was a bit of humidity too. Soon we spotted wild frogs famous around these areas. Some were dark brownish, some like a chameleon sporting mix of light brown and tinge of green similar to the muddy path we were treading on. Beautiful wild flowers completed our blessed experience.

Yet another stream crossing

It took us another 45 minutes or so to cross the forest with its slippery paths punctuated with thin streams and wilderness all around. We came out on a wide grassland with beautiful view of mountain ranges covered mostly with thick trees all around us. We took the opportunity to rest and remove leeches, and yeah most important of all - taking snaps. The coordinators pointed some peak having patch of grass surrounded by thick forest as part of our route - but there wasn't any distinct shape to be able to remember. As we started again and crossed the grassland, we came across villages with green cultivation all around. Crossing the fields, the forests started again - this time with plenty of short waterfalls and wide streams.After about 20 minutes, we came across the most dangerous part of our trek - crossing a bed of rocks made slippery by water flow. Two huge fallen trees were our support and even then crossing was dangerous. It took about 20 minutes for our entire group to get through it. I couldn't help imagining the danger during full monsoon flow - must be very impractical.

The most dangerous part of the trek

Into the forest again - steep and slippery

We now had to steadily climb around the edges of the mountain having thick cover of forest interspersed with waterfalls. After another 20 minute hike, we finally reached the main attraction of the trek - Hidlumane falls. Though it was second half of September, there was good enough water-flow and certainly gushing and icy cold, even at 11:20AM. I kept up my tradition of bathing in a waterfall whenever I go to Western Ghats. The pure and cold water doesn't need a second invitation - one simply shouldn't miss it. It was certainly the biggest waterfall yet I have visited. The force of the water felt as if being barraged by bullets. And ofcourse, it was the much needed massage for journey ahead.

Hidlumane falls

After the refreshing bath, we climbed further up through the winding forest. At one spot, coordinators had to climb up first and lend support for us to go ahead. This led to a small hold-up and allowed leeches have easy preys. For the first time during the trek so far, we got tired and our legs pained from steady and steep climbing. At around 12:40pm, we finally left behind the last of our forest trekking. Ofcourse that meant that the leeches were left behind too for the time being. But more steep climb awaited us through the grasslands. Out of the forest also mysteriously got us good cell-phone signal. 

 
Finally out of the forest - but more steep climb awaited us

Mesmerizing beauty all around

Still a long way to go

After another round of photography of the view around us, we willed ourselves to climb for another 30 minutes to reach a vantage view point on a flatter surface invitingly having a bench made of wood. Some time during the climb, we had a view of cultivated land we had crossed earlier. Perhaps the coordinators did correctly point out this peak after all. We relaxed for quite a while here gossiping about - what else? - trekking. Many of us removed the shoes to get rid of the many leeches painlessly drinking our blood. My count this time was '6' after a disappointing '1' (Sakleshpur) and '2' (Thirumaleguppi) :D. We were hungry, but many among the group didn't like this place for having lunch as it didn't protect us from the hot Sun.

The picture says it all

Lots of ups and downs

And we moved closer and closer to heavenly Kodachadri

After a bit of up and down between hills and a sighting of Kodachadri with its jeep tracks opposite our hill, we settled down to have lunch on a rocky bed with a stream nearby. The stream was actually flowing under the rocks before breaking out and forming a small pool and allowing trees to grow around it. Anyone having extra eateries shared it across the group - another highlight point of our awesome togetherness. Lunch was finished in a jiffy and within the hour we were up again towards our destination.


After another huffing and puffing climb for 15 minutes, we joined the jeep tracks of Kodachadri. Another group of trekkers joined us during the climb - presumably they started after us but had fewer stops in between. The view from the tracks was again exhilarating, the scenery enriched with misty clouds now starting to engulf all around. The Sun though continued to play hide and seek. Another round of snaps followed, the kid being most obliging.

After lunch, more steep climbing

And finally the jeep track to Kodachadri peak

It was close to 3pm. The trek so far wasn't very exhausting, but challenging. The winding jeep tracks were boring after having trekked through the forests, but they did provide us breath-taking views of misty covered hills and forests and gorges and guest houses. Another haul of an hour's trek took us to the home stay. Couple of shops provided us with much needed refreshment in form of tea and coffee and cold drinks. I am failing to remember correctly if some of us had late lunch given by the home stay - the memory is muddled up a bit am afraid. But we weren't done with the day's job yet. We had to trek further up for a date with the famous sunset view from Kodachadri peak.

We literally walked through the clouds :)

But still a long way to sunset point

If our sightings of the mountains covered with mist en-route so far was mesmerizing, then what we came across the last climb for the day was surely heavenly. Rows of cloud covered entire valleys with sun rays filtering now and then. And when they moved to reveal what they hid, we could see dense forests and occasional cry of the wild. More than half an hour of steep climb with tired bodies were forgotten and replaced with pure bliss that can only be experienced.

The temple atop Kodachadri - clouds spoiled our chance to see sunset
Atop the peak at last, we were greeted with a very old looking temple made of stone and covered all around with green growings. The sad part though was that we were engulfed completely in the clouds that our visibility was reduced to few feet. We were deprived of viewing sunset, but many including me made a secret pact to ourselves to return another day. For the moment, we settled on the misty grasses with the mountain's edge close by. The South African, though, turned disappointment to thrilling experience - he climbed a protruding ledge off the mountain covered with mist but visible enough for us to capture him, his hands aloft with obvious glee. Another member followed his lead shortly after he came back, but the rest of us thought it too dangerous to give it a try.

The South African
We went to the sunset point anyway - another 10 minutes of slippery trekking through near darkness at 5:40pm!. The guides had to shout to make themselves heard to let us know the way. The path was covered with wild grass and other trekking paths merged here. Surprisingly there were leeches at the sunset point without there being trees around. Perhaps the misty conditions enable them to survive. We gossiped for some time and went back to avoid trekking down through pitch darkness. On the way, we stopped at one of many vending stalls selling sweet lime water and other eateries. Though the lime concentration was very less, most of us had a glass or more. Most of the vendors had packed off for the day and this kind vendor obliged our large group. While coming, we also saw a group gathering wood - perhaps they intended to pitch in for the night - though as far as I know, camping for the night ain't allowed.

We might have called it a day from trekking perspective. But back in the home stay, we settled nicely for another round of gossiping while dinner was being prepared. One of our guide was a specialist in snake handling and the talk eventually led to snakes. Hearing about snakes always fascinates me initially, but after sometime I feel oddly uncomfortable. And I certainly didn't fancy seeing live snakes nearby. We all had more surprises coming up. For the moment though, we enjoyed hot and nourishing dinner and went to sleep early so as to give ourselves a shot at sunrise.

The sleeping bags were perfect in protecting us from the cold as well as varied insects coming inside the house attracted by light bulbs. Sometime in the middle of the night, a drunkard from the village somehow came inside our home stay. After a bit of row he was driven away, but not before some of us were robbed of peaceful sleep. At around 4:15am, the guides started waking us up to get ready for the trek to sunrise spot.

Armed with torches, we began our climb. For most of us, it was the first experience of trekking so early in the morning as well as going to a sunrise viewpoint in the high mountains. The air was cold and fresh, our spirits high. Onwards we marched, guided by each others torch. The sunrise view point was on a different peak to that of the sunset one. And lesser trekking distance too. However, it had it's own challenge - walking on a narrow path, barely 2-3 feet around the mountain's round edges. Coupled with the darkness around, it certainly had our adrenaline running high.

Preparing and waiting for the sunrise

We reached the spot well before sunrise. At around 5:45AM, streaks of reddish-orange light shone on the horizon. We were treated with another heavenly experience. We were surrounded all around by mountains and our spot rose above the mountains in the east. What made it special was the milky cloud cover ending on the edges like a waterfall. While we waited for Sun's first rays to strike, the crescent moon attracted our attention. And as light grew bright steadily, we began shooting the mountains around us. Some adventurous folks went past the peak's edge, down a bit to wait for the sunrise to be enjoyed in solitude. The wait for sunrise continued to taunt us and we were worried if clouds would play spoil sport for the second time too. At around 6:15AM, we even gave up the hope and started to trek down - only for the gods to lift our dark mood by the Sun's piercing rays as we were descending round the corner at 6:18AM. And needless to say, we tried different tricks to capture the fiery red glow. To top it all, I met a college-mate who was part of another group on the way back.

Sunrise amidst sea of clouds
At around 8-8:30AM, we began the descent - the only unpleasant (physically) part of the entire trek. We had to take the jeep track path and reach base in roughly two hours. I was told that this route was around 10km. It seemed much longer to me - thanks to the wet shoes which had had no chance of drying from previous day's water exploits. As the Sun rose to its fullness, so did the temperature. My shoes began to dry unevenly and ultimately giving me blisters on both feet with more than half the distance pending. Having not brought sandals, there was but no choice than carrying on with shoes. It pains even now to just be reliving it. Though all was not bad during the descent. The small groups that formed during the descent kept changing so much so that I must have walked with most members at some point or the other. And I distinctly remember the kid asking Kiran on the differences between Cheetah and Leopard - and the funny part was that the kid knew the answer, he was just 'kidding' us!

About 1-2km from the base, some members took to the streams flowing under the jeep track. Much as I would have liked to have a dip, the sore feet made me reach base asap and remove the shoes. After everyone had assembled at the point we had started the trek previous day, we went to the home stay again for refreshment and late breakfast. The host also offered honey and other items which some members bought. After we finally took leave of the mountains, we still had another item on our agenda - visiting Nagara Fort which was about 20-25km from Kodachadri.


And we were immediately thanking heavens for having a snake-catching expert as one of our guide - a large snake (perhaps cobra, not able to remember) was spotted near the entrance of the fort. The guide immediately went about his business - and soon enough had caught the snake by its tail. But instead of putting the snake inside a bag immediately, he held the snake for a long time for us to see. With hindsight, it should have been avoided. The South African came in aid of holding the bag when it eventually was decided to stop the snake holding. By this time, a local crowd - chiefly children, had gathered in front of the fort. The guide and the South African struggled before the snake got free, shooing away the kids. By this time I was sick of it all and proceeded to go inside the fort. I heard later that there was more drama before they could finally put the snake in the bag. Glad I wasn't around.

Nagara Fort
The fort was ruined yet beautifully maintained with greenery all around. It was amazing to think what people achieved in construction in those days without all the automated machinery of today. One could easily deduce that it was built for strong defense. A series of steps led to a tower from where one could see entire fort and water bodies around. The tower had an emergency exit too - or perhaps meant as a secret door in case of attack which led to back side of the fort. The stair-case was still usable and we reached the backside base of the fort. There were ruined cannons made of stone. The path also led towards prison which must have been horrifying cell as much as it looked dreary. We spent around 50 minutes to see the entire fort. The captured snake was release into a forest just few kilometers from the fort. And along the way I saw another long black snake perilously close to the road. I hadn't seen wild snakes before the trek (not counting zoos) and here I get to see two in space of hours.

After lunch on the way, the usual antakshari was chosen for time pass. Usually I note down good songs so as to add them to my playlist. While I did got a few this time too, this antakshari was different - going with the trek's theme perhaps. The songs were chosen from all south-indian dialects plus hindi. Not caring a jot about our weird voices, we heartily sang anything coming to mind. The best part was that everyone participated. Around 5-6pm we stopped for tea and when we resumed, antakshari gave way to sharing stories - mostly personal experiences, some of them love stories, some school incidents and some trekking ones. And fate had another twist in store for us - vehicle breakdown. But thankfully near highway hotels where some had their dinner while the vehicle was being fixed. As it got very late, some members caught state buses who were kind enough to stop. I stayed behind so as to experience reaching room very late in the night - it was around 12am when I finally completed two days of awesome experience.

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