Monday, January 7, 2008
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A trip of blind uncertainties, and one in which to almost perfect the art of getting lost; this is what the Kodai to Munnar trek turned out to be.
To start with, nobody was sure if the trip was gonna happen or not, confusion about who will be joining and who is dropping out, no tickets in any of the herd of buses plying to Kodai, or to any place within a hundred kilometers of that even! But finally, the gang of seven - me, jomy, shanti, roop, abhi, shail and murali happened to be hiring a qualis and setting off to Kodai on the Friday night - 28/12/2007.
We were very late to start from Bangalore, at about 11.00 p.m. The planned route was to go to Salem, then Udumalpett, Palani and reach Kodai. While the rest of us were sleeping, or rather - being tossed here and there in the swaying van - the driver and the navigator - that's abhi - managed to get lost somewhere on the highways, didn't go through udumalpett, but somehow reached Palani and at last hit Kodai by about 11.30 a.m on Saturday morning.
Features of the night trip include stopping at roadside dhaba huts at odd hours of the night, sitting on the rustic braided coir cots and gazing up the midnight skies while the sleepy dhabawaalah lit up the samovar and made tea. Somehow the braided coir cots make you feel miserably comfortable at such hours!
In Kodai, the first mission was to obtain permission for trekking from the DFO. Our plan was to trek from Berijam lake in Kodai to TopStation in Munnar. There was a tarred road along this route that the Britishers had built. The road was closed in 1975 and after that it became a jeep track. The jeeps also stopped after sometime and then this became a forest trail. It was sparingly used by trekkers. We had read about a group trekking through this path sometime in 2006 and were planning our trip based on that. What we did not know at this point was that by the end of our journey we are gonna find the route almost completely non existent now, that the forest has grown back with a vengeance into the trail and that almost nobody has gone through the route for at least the last couple of years!
The trail goes through Kodai forest range and at the end through Munnar range in Kerala through the Pambadum Shola national park. A permission is needed from the forest department to trek in here as these are reserved forest areas. But getting permission from the District Forest Officer turned out to be tiresome ordeal. First the bunch of middlemen in the forest office would not let us meet the DFO, and when after three four times of going and coming back to the office we finally got to see the DFO, he is adamant that he can't give permission for a thousand reasons. After half an hour of pestering, he finally gave us permission to stay at the forest guest house in Berijam and walk around a few kilometers there and that was it! But somebody at the forest office tipped us off about Velayudham, someone who works in the forest department, who also functions as a guide and who by the way can get permission for anything if approached in the right manner! We called up Velayudham, and to start off he said he charged 300 Rs/- per head per day of trekking! But by now we somehow wanted to trek whatever it takes and agreed to his demands. It was almost evening time now. Velayudham redirected us to another person named Manikandan, or KodaiMani, who was to be our guide.
The moment after we met Mani confusions and uncertainties started to begin. Mani said the route we are thinking of is not at all interesting as its a plain jeep track with forest on either sides. He proposed to take us through some other routes around Berijam lake, through some resortish accommodation stuff and back to Berijam. We were kind of keen on a wild trek rather than a resort bound walk, but somehow Mani sounded convincing. Then we called up Velyaudham again and he says the Mani route is just so-so and the original route is the one to go if you want any thrills or fun. After a lot of debate, permutations, combinations and finally a vote we decided to stick to the original plan! By now it was night. We did not want to spend the night at Kodai but wanted to go to Berijam lake. Mani said the Pambadum Shola path is so full of leeches that at least fifty of them will catch on to your feet for every step! He said we will need something, some anti leech footware to avoid that. The tailor will take at least half a day to make those and so we can start our trek only at mid-day next day! But we were adamant that we go to Beijam lake for the night, so we decided we will send Mani and the driver back to Kodai in the morning to fetch The Anti Leech Software - err, footware - and start the trek from Berijam lake when they are back. We shopped for stuff in Kodai, fruits, kerosene, salt and neem oil for leeches etc. Mani tried his very best to avoid going to Berijam at night, but our stubbornness finally won over him and there we were setting off to Berijam from Kodai at 11.30 in the night.
Berijam is a fresh water lake in the controlled forest area. Usually people are not allowed there in the night though day trips are permitted. But not many people go there. It is about 25 km from Kodai, and you need to pass through three forest check posts to reach it. The saying is, in the Britishers' time they used to make jam from berries out here and that's why this places was called Berijam! Theres a forest guest house here and couple of huts and quarters for forest department employees who stay here.
After about fifteen minutes of drive we reached the first check post which is about 8km from Kodai, the guard who was a friend of Mani opened the gate and we were through. After some more time we entered the forest - the night was pitch black. On both sides of the road I could see large shadowy trees. They looked like hooded giants standing guard as the bright headlights' beam pierced the darkness. About five minutes later, we were coming around a bend, the turning light beam fell on something huge and black standing in the middle of the road. A full grown bison! looking immensely powerful, its crimson eyes were shining in the blinding light. But he turned out to be a peace loving animal and courteously moved to the side of the road. We returned the favour and moved on without bothering him much.
Sometime later we reached the second check post in the middle of the forest which was unmanned at this hours with good reason. Mani got down and took out the keys from somewhere around the check post hut - a little secret kept by a few good men. He needed help to untie the ropes and I decided to get down. I stepped out and looked up at the sky and was treated to an awesome view. The sky was full of thousands and thousands of stars! everywhere I looked - right, left, above and even the tiny patches of sky visible under tree tops were sprinkled with stars!
I had to stand like that for a couple of minutes. Others also got down and we untied the check-post, moved past it, locked it again and kept the secret back in its place. At bout 12.30 p.m we reached the final check post near the forest guest house. Mani woke up the guard who was sleeping inside the building nearby and he escorted us to the guest house. We gout our backpack down from the van. There was no electricity, and we had the dinner that we were carrying under some kind candle lights. The rooms had nice carpets and soon we were fast asleep inside our sleeping bags.
I slept peacefully. So did everyone else I hope.
In the morning we went to the lake, and 'went around' the forest. The lake was peaceful and serene with a large herd of blossomed water lilies on one side. Mani had mentioned there would be an old boat tied somewhere and that we can try it but to be very careful. Nothing on the lakeshore looked like a boat landing. We walked along the shore a bit. Only me, roop, jomy and shanti were there when we found the boat. It looked pretty shaken down, with no oars visible anywhere! But we figured the couple of wooden planks lying inside the boat were supposed to be serving the purpose. I don't think any of us were on anything like this on our own and we were skeptical about whether we should try it or not. We were no rowing experts! But there we were eventually, untying the boat, stepping in hesitantly and pushing ourselves off the shore! roop and jomy were the rowers or oarers, I was the control and shanti was the observer - she was to keep observing if the water level inside the boat was rising enough to cause alarm!
We did not move a lot from the shore initially. The art of rowing - rather getting the boat to go were we wanted it - was something to get used to. It kept on turning around and drifting, we bumped into water lilies and shanti kept on saying we should go back this moment. But with some struggle, the rowers got used to their task, and we were able to control the boat rather well. There was a strong wind blowing across the lake and it was pushing our boat into the lily herds. The lake is some sort of T shaped and approximately 3 kms in length. We rowed and rowed against the wind to reach the middle part of the lake away from the lilies. The oarers quit by now, submitting ourselves completely to the mercy of the wind. Floating thus in the middle of nowhere, in complete silence except the tiny ripples kissing the boat, a glistening expanse of water on all sides, bright sun and thick forests encircling, we were blissfully lost.
We spent much more time than we intended in that world.
Getting the boat back to the landing and parking it at the right spot turned out to be another skilled job. We did manage to accomplish it somehow. By now it was almost noon. Mani and the driver had gone to Kodai and came back with 'The Anti Leech Software' and packed lunch. Today we were supposed to trek from Berijam to a place called Nattampetti and spend the night in the forest quarters there. The next day we were supposed to trek from there and reach a wireless station in Pambadum Shola national park. On Tuesday - 1/1/2008 - by noon we were supposed to reach Top Station in Munnar from there. We sent the van and the driver off with instructions to go from Kodai to Munnar by road. He was to wait for us at Top Station on Tuesday. We started on our trek from Berijam with the packed lunch at bout 1.00 p.m.
We were walking through the broken tarred road - the jeep track. This road is called 'The Escape Route', not clear why, though some said its because the Britishers escaped through this route! After 30-40 minutes of walking through that we cut into a side trail going through a pine forest. In fact the pine trees were planted by Britishers though now it resembled a forest. After the rains the pine trees had grown fresh leaves, or rather the strands that looked refreshingly green. Warm sun rays were seeping in through the pine foliage. There were small pine trees where I could run my fingers through their fresh green strands. I queerly felt like running my fingers through a pretty girl's long and soft hair strands ... :-)
After another hour of walking through the pretty girls, some of them albeit with dyed hair, we reached another splendid lake. This was the Kaunji lake.
This lake was probably smaller than the Berijam lake but looked more beautiful. We opened our packed lunches there and relaxed for some time. We made sure we collected all the garbage in a bag to be disposed off later when we reach the village.
At 3.30 pm we started again. Mani delved into a seemingly thick pine foliage and landed us on another trail practically hidden by the bushes. This trail was smaller, and there was considerable undergrowth among the pine trees here, but these were still old planted trees. We crossed over a small stream and were soon on a wider trail that led to the Kaunji village. We rested at some place where we could see most of the valley beneath, comprising of a couple of villages. This was not really a tiring day's trek.
We had to walk half an hour more to reach the road that passed through the Kaunji village. From a road side chai shop, we had some tea. It felt surprisingly rich. From here we had to go to Nattampetti, another village some kilometers away, and we hoped to catch a bus or a van. But then, what came along chugging down the mountain road was a lorry instead! So we all climbed up onto the back of this lorry with all the luggage and settled amidst a few villagers who were traveling in that. The lorry started through the winding downhill road. It was swaying violently and tossing us all around, so we stood up holding on tightly to the railing. This was indeed an enjoyable ride passing through the farming villages with the sun setting in the background. The cold of the night was setting in and there was a pinching chill in the air. When it started to get almost dark, our lorry stopped at Nattampetti village and we all scrambled down shivering. This is really just a settlement than a village.
Mani and one of his aides there led us to the forest quarters. It was a small recently finished building - again no electricity. Mani's aide brought a pot full of water from somewhere. Couple of us worked on setting up a campfire while the rest started to prepare dinner. We were carrying a small gas stove, rice to cook, heat and eat packages, and soups, a special for a new years eve next day when we would be camping at the wireless station!
But when we were having the cooked stuff by the warm fire that we set up, Mani made a fateful proposal. Seldom did we know that it would go on to topple all our plans. He said the next day we would be walking entirely through a plain boring jeep track, and said he knows another route through the forest, but added that he doesn't know it well, that we would have to find our way through it actually, and that it would be thrilling! Since there was not really a weakling among us to pull us back, all of us ended up agreeing to this. By the end of our trek we were to learn the hard way that the jeep track itself, or rather the non existence of it, is the most difficult and/or thrilling part of the trek!
Next day we started our trek at 9.30 am. We filled water from a stream and started to climb uphill through the jeep track. We were walking along the side of the stream that formed small rapids and waterfalls occasionally. The sun was not kind and it was pretty hot. After an hour of walking we reached a larger waterfall called Vellayanthol falls. The water was extremely cold. We rested there for sometime in the ambient noise of the falling water. The sound of a falling stream is said to be one of the most calming sounds, and I can vouch that its very true.
After walking a few hundred meters from the falls, we embarked on our fateful diversion from the jeep track. It started as a tree cutters' trail into the forest. Mani was making marks on the trees that we were passing with the large machete knife he was carrying. He said hes just marking the way in case we get lost. We walked almost half an hour on that trail. It became narrower and narrower. We passed through bare rock faces, thick bushes and foliage. Mani expected to find a small broken wood bridge across a stream nearby. He said the bridge would lead us to a track which would in turn take us to the jeep track at the end.
Couple of places he went down from the track and inspected but could not spot the bridge. After some more walking through thicker bushes we reached a small clearing and a swamp. There appeared to be a small trail to the left, but Mani did not seem to like it. One of the BSNL mobiles had network connectivity and he even tried calling up somebody to ask for the route. But it did not help much. We eventually decided to go to the right. This was a very wrong decision which in fact took us far away from the jeep track.
There was a wide grassland to the right, we started crossing it. Lots of elephant dung was scattered around there. It did not look fresh, and hence was not an indication of present danger. There was no clear trail, and whatever looked like a trail ended in some thick thorny bushes. We made our way through the bushes by cutting them down with the machete, and in the process I received lot of thorn scratches on my hands. After scrambling for some distance through the bushes we emerged on a bare rock face and a clearing. I hoped Mani could spot some landmark, but he was completely without a clue. But he said we should be targeting the mountain that was to our left.
After resting there for a few minutes, we picked ourselves up again and started to seek a trail to the left. Something that barely resembled a trail was chosen and we started on it. It also was full of thorn bushes and the machete came in handy. The trail or whatever it was, rather resembled a path used by animals, and not humans. We could see lot of animal droppings, and the trail was full of hooves marks, probably bisons', goats' or something else's. Sometimes I had to wonder how can even animals tread through such a difficult trail. This path led us to small stream flowing through a rock face. This was a little tricky to cross as most of the rock face was slippery. After figuring out a couple of safe foot holds, we crossed it one by one. The other side was an even smaller animal trail. After a few hundred meters of going through thorny bushes, we emerged on a slightly wider trail that appeared to be used by humans. To the left the trail was going down and to the right it was going up. We decided to go to the right. It led us to a small clearing on the side of the hill. It was 2 O'clock in the afternoon and by now we were all tired. We decided to have lunch and gorged on the bread and jam we were carrying. The bread was all crumbled, but it sure helped the hunger.
After lunch Mani and Murali were sent on a reconnaissance mission to ascertain where we were and to find a way back to the jeep track if possible. They were gone for about 15-20 minutes, and came back with the bad news that we are probably on the wrong mountain! They found the dilapidated remains of an illegal eucalyptus oil brewing place which was raided and destroyed by forest guards. That probably explained the existence of this trail. Going back on the track we came through was kind of out of question. So we decided we will go forward and try to climb down the hill and reach a probable track that might be passing through the valley. But the forward path ended shortly on a steep cliff landing into thick forest. Mani suggested we go back on the brewing place trail and see if it leads out of the forest. We started walking back. After a few meters we had another idea - In the valley below we could see a pine plantation, like the ones which we passed on first day. This meant the other side of it would probably be a track. There was a place were the rock cliff was not that steep and we could walk down through it in to the pine forest. The rock cliff was easy but when we actually entered the pine forest, we found that it had very thick undergrowth. We were trapped amidst waist hight thorny bushes. Not much light was entering the forest floor through the foliage. It looked like we were terribly lost. For some relief, there were large fallen pine trees that made a maze through the bushes. We balanced ourselves on the fallen trunks and started walking slowly. The whole ordeal looked like an adventure from the Tomb Raider movies! Once or twice people lost balance and landed on the bushes. Struggling thus we crossed the pine forest and emerged on another large swampy grassland. There was a stream running through it, but not a sign of the promised track!
To the right was thick forest and to the left was the grassland and this time we took the left path. There were lots of bison foot prints and elephant dung on the grass. Walking further we could see something that looked like a trail at some height on the mountain in front. After a few hundred meters we spotted the broken wood bridge that we were looking for in the morning! We had taken the wrong route to the right at the first swamp and made a very big and difficult circle through the forest and came back to the correct path!!! The track from the wooden bridge went up the mountain and was the one we spotted at some height earlier.
This adventure had cost us a lot of time, it was about 3.30 pm by now, and from Mani's memory it would take about 4 hours to reach wireless station from here. We felt a bit of night trekking was okay as we all had torches. All of us started walking on the track with refreshed energy, having no hint of the tougher ordeals that were in store ahead!
The track had occasional trees fallen across it and we had go around the tree to get back on to the track. But the terrain was not difficult and we were walking fast, we did not want to spend too much time in the forest after it gets dark. A few hundred meters into the track Mani suggested we take a short cut climb instead of going through this track which was gonna take at least two hours. The short cut climb should save us an hour he said. We were very skeptic about this after the previous adventures and asked him again and again if he knew that track for certain. He sounded sure. We had to save time and we agreed to take the short cut climb. The climb was not any harder than the trails we came through except that it was climbing up. We made good time and emerged in to a wider looking track at around 5.00 pm.
This was 'The Jeep Track'! It looked anything but a plain boring jeep track, looking completely abandoned and forest grown into the track from both sides. Mani said he had trekked through this two years back and then the road looked better! I had an itching feeling that we were awfully short of time. On the road there were broken remains of old tar and jelly stones at places and we were to check this at intervals to make sure that we are on the correct path. I roughly estimated that we might be reaching wireless station by 7.30 or by max 8.00 pm and thought we can handle it with the torches.
We were still making good time, walking as fast as we could. We couldn't fail to notice that we were almost out of water though. In the 'faintly possible' event of having to camp inside, we badly needed water; but there was no water source anywhere so we kept on going. At times the undergrowth on the track was thick and we had to poke at the road with the machete to determine if there are any jelly stones or tar to confirm we are on the right path. Evey few hundred meters there were huge trees fallen across the track with impregnable bushes grown under them. But there was enough light now for us to survey the area, figure out a path that went around the tree and get back on to the track. We were on rather plane terrain and this going around fallen trees was not a very difficult task. Every time after such a detour we poked the ground and made sure we were on 'tarred' road!
At about 6.00 pm we reached a T junction on the track. The right track was supposed to eventually go to Koviloor village and the left one should lead us to the wireless station. We took the left route. For sometime the path looked better and I thought we might make it easily. But I was wrong. After about twenty minutes of walking the track started to get very difficult, it was now climbing up through the hill with drops on one side and the hill rising on the other side. Going around fallen trees was much more difficult. We had to scramble up the raised hill part and climb down into the 'tarred' road from there. And there were more fallen trees now than before! In addition to this there were occasional hair pin bends on the track now. The bent corners of them almost always had a fallen tree and thick undergrowth. To handle these, we had to climb up through the hill side and enter the track above after the bend. It was getting dark, and finding 'tar' on the road seemed difficult. But we had to make sure that we were on 'tarred' road to reach our destination.
At 6.45 pm we reached a stream flowing across the road. Mani seemed to know this landmark and said we were not very far from the destination. One good thing, we filled water from the stream. But after the stream there was no sign of the road! It was all thick bushes and swampy soil. But Mani said the road continues and it would be like this for some distance, though he sounded less convincing. It was getting dark now, and we took out our torches. We crossed the stream and were kind of lost among waist high vegetation. Everyone poked at ground under their feet to see if we were on 'tarred' road. Once in a while some one found a jelly stone, or a stone covered with tar and asserted that we are indeed on tarred road! Soon we hit a huge tree fallen across the road, and it was so full of bushes we were not even able to see if there was indeed road after the blockade. We tried going to the left and it was a swamp and the hill side drop. We came back and tried if there is a way on the right side but it was kind of sealed by the raised hill side. Climbing up that side seemed impossible. We went back to the left side and started hacking the undergrowth with the machete to make a path. This was taking time. One by one we squeezed ourselves through the foliage and landed on the other side. Poking all around with the machete gave no indications of 'tar', but we kept on moving. Mani said we should be reaching a milestone somewhere on the road which was the next landmark. There was no clear trail now, bushes were all around. But sometime later Mani asserted that we are on 'tarred' road after poking the ground! I was the one following Mani and the rest of the gang was behind me. I looked back to see if they were all there. It was an interesting sight. With only their torches visible they looked like huge fireflies moving across the bushes!
We were all tired and the itching feeling of being lost was creeping up my mind. We kept on moving somehow with the help of the torches. sometime later Mani found the milestone by the side of the road. It was 8 O'clock now, everywhere around us was pitch dark apart from the torch beams. There was no clearing even to camp, it was all bushes and fallen trees. We kept on struggling and moving forward past each fallen tree. Hacking the way through a tree took at least fifteen twenty minutes.
The clock kept ticking, and soon it was 9 O'clock. We passed another stream on the track and reached a place that looked like a small clearing. Someone put forward the idea of camping there. But it was very close to the stream. A rather dangerous place to spend the night as the stream meant wild animals visiting it for water. This area is inhabited by leopards, elephants, bisons, wild boar and other small animals. Se we walked on further. By 10 O'clock we were stranded by another huge fallen tree and it appeared like there's no way around it or through it! It definitely appeared like a hair pin bend but nothing was clear in the light of the torch beams. People were very tied by now and very few wanted to walk further. We were almost near the top the mountain, or so it seemed by looking around the tree tops and the sky. We could hear a flowing stream somewhere, or may be it was the wind gushing through tree tops. I definitely wanted to keep on walking and get out of the forest whatever it takes, but even Mani was not sure how far away were we from the end or how long it was gonna take. We even considered the possibility that we passed the wireless station and were lost somewhere in the forest. Finally, we decided to camp there. There was no clearing as such. There was a big drop to the left side and sort of impregnable bushes up front. The path we came from was also very difficult and the only open approach was to the right side.
We were not carrying any tents and making a roof of any sorts above our heads seemed impossible. We would have to sleep in the open, but inside the sleeping bags thankfully. We would need to light a fire. The fire will ward off all animals unless they are hell bent on coming and checking us out!
We decided to make two fires. One on to the left and one to right. We will have to keep the fires burning through out the night. Nobody wanted to venture far from here but plenty of firewood could be found nearby. We had luckily bought lots of kerosene at Kodai which proved to be a good decision. Couple of us started to take out and set up the stove and make noodles for dinner, and the rest worked on setting up fire stations. Noodles were done quick.
It was 12 O'clock.
We indeed were spending the new year's eve inside the forest as we wished!
We kept on talking and tried to stay awake as late as possible. Somebody had to be awake to feed the fire and keep it burning.
Around 1-1.30 people started slipping in to their sleeping bags. We were all huddled together between the two fires burning. I set my mobile phone alarm to ring every thirty minutes. Even if I doze off it will wake me up in time to check the fires.
It was like we were secure in a small orange yellow light blob created by the fires and huge dark giant hordes were pushing at the blob from outside. The magic blob would not give in and the giants were kept at bay. But once in a while the fires would start to go down, and the light blob would shrink alarmingly. To keep the guardian spell alive I had to wake up from my stupor and push logs to the fire near me. I woke up people on the other side to feed the other fire.
I barely slept.
The night around was scarily silent at times. But if you listened, slowly, as your ears get used to it you heard a thousand crickets in that silence. Tree branches brushing against each other and making weird noises. One lonely night bird somewhere disturbed in sleep. A million other noises that I could not decipher or rather did not want to. The forest seemed to be teeming with activity behind the dark curtains thrown up by the burning fires.
At 2.30 am, the moon started to rise. Everything went silent. The forest all around looked very eerie bathed in the moon light. I tried not to remember all the scary tales about people getting lost in the forest, The Blair Witch Project, and many others! I put more logs in to the fire so it burned bright and tall.
I counted every thirty minutes - 2.30 - 3.00 - 3.30 and going. Sometime abhi woke up feeling something was poking his back from the bushes!! But in his sleep he had turned around, his back was not facing the bushes and the thing poking his back turned out to be roop's feet!
3.30 - I badly wanted to sleep and woke up shail and roop to keep watch on the fire and dozed off.
4.30 - They woke me up. I decided to keep awake. 5.00 - more logs to the fire.
5.30 - tiny hints of the sun rising behind us. Jomy woke up, I slept.
I was tired.
I woke up at 6.30 to warm sunlight on my face. The morning looked chirpy and cheerful. The fires had died down. The dark night was over!
The place where we were stranded was indeed a hair pin bend.
All of us were wedged inside the sleeping bags. Nobody wanted to wake up. Everyone had to prod the others that eventually the whole group was awake and stirring.
It took us one more hour of struggling through fallen trees to reach the border stone separating Kerala and Tamilnadu forest ranges. Right next to it was a normal jeep track used by Kerala forest department.
We walked on it and reached a huge abandoned watch tower which marked the beginning of the Pambadum Shola National Park. We climbed atop it. It was really tall and we could scan the entire sanctuary from the top. After that we walked further and were confronted by two forest guards working at the wireless station. They were coming to check whats going on as they heard noises from the watch tower. They started unfriendly, stating people are not allowed to trek here, but Mani with the DFO background and a letter from the DFO Mani was carrying mellowed them down and they soon turned out very friendly.
Haneef and Jyothi Mani, the forest guards, worked in the wireless station. They took us there, we made some breakfast and shared with them. The building had a huge trench around it to protect it from elephant attacks. They agreed to guide us through some beautiful spots and down through the National Park to the road that goes to Top Station. It was about 11.00 am by now. We had asked the driver to wait at Top Station till 1-1.30 pm and go back to Munnar and call up the travels guy back home if we don't turn up.
They said there are no leeches now as it is very warm. So 'The Anti Leech Software' turned out to be useless. But still all of us wore it and ended up looking like bisons with the white puff of the leech ware around our ankles. We looked rather funny!
We walked with them through the Kerala-Tamilnadu forest border and climbed up some grass filled hills. The puffy grass bushes felt like a cushion under your feet. Here and there in the grass there were wild red flowers, like shimmering embers of the fire we left behind. Chilled winds blew across the hill face and made you feel cool even in the warm sunlight. Across the grasslands were cliffs overlooking beautiful valleys and thick forests. We rested on the cliffs. The mist clouds played a mesmerising ballet down in the valley. They shot up from the valley like dragon heads and dissolved away into milky white puff. They scuttled across the hill side like a herd of sheep and disappeared above the tree tops. At times the mist cleared, revealing the valley with all its splendour. Butterflies glided through the mist in their mating dance.
The views were awesome beyond words.
We were losing time again, there was no mobile network connectivity to call up the driver and it was 1.30 pm. But there was nothing we could do.
The forest guards led us down by the side of these hills on a steep trail through the dense shola forest.
And they lost the way after sometime !!!!!
But the guard knew enough to wind back up and find the correct trail.
And we reached the road below by 4 O'clock!
We could call up the travels' guy. The driver had come and gone back from Top Station. We asked him to come to the forest check post at Top Station. We reached the check post after walking on the road for a kilometer. I took a bath in ice cold water in one of the bathrooms there and felt incredibly fresh after that. Real cold water baths do something magical to the body if you are ready to endure them.
We met the qualis on the way, hopped on it and reached Munnar driving through tea gardens and the setting sun. Most of us felt giddy and tired having no lunch and very little of breakfast. We found a nice hotel, hogged like mad and thoroughly confused the waiters with random orders. The lemon teas at the end felt divine.
By 8.30 pm we started our journey back to Bangalore in the swaying qualis - with aching joints, scratched hands, sleep deprived and tired like hell.
Will I do this again? Oh yes, of course!