Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Monsoon Survival Mission – Mind over body :)

July 13th to 15th 2012

Dear Reader,
Word of CAUTION: The write up is pretty long and may put you to sleep.
Word of advice: if you are an insomniac, the read may help :P
"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired."
- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian
It was around 4:15 a.m. when Karan with the GPS in his hand, asked the bus driver to stop the bus in the middle of nowhere. The bewildered bus driver said “here?!” and Karan replied “yes, here”. The bus came to a halt in a few seconds and 21 of us, hard core trekkers got down from the bus. I got out my torch in a few minutes with the help of the light coming from the trucks/buses on the road while the rest of them were busy trying to get their torches out or applying leech repellant.  I looked up at the sky to find the moon shining dimly at me through the translucent clouds. To the left side of the road, I could see a wall of soil covered in trees and to the right I could see thick vegetation. I was wondering from which side we would enter the forest and I was waiting to get in :) Peter asked everyone to start walking up the road and fill water bottles near a stream quickly. At 4:45 a.m., we followed Peter into the wild :)
We started our trek up the hill covered in wet leaves and soil. The hill was inclined at around 70 degrees in most of the places and I had to hold the trees and lift myself up to keep the next step. I kept slipping a few times initially and I wondered if I was doing the right thing by coming on this trek and all the things in the mail which said things like they will send us back if we are not up to it in the first few hours etc. kept running in my head. I was hesitating to hold the branches for support because I knew the forest was known for pit vipers.  Last two weekends I was on a leech trek, so at this point in time, that was the last thing I was worried about.  After a few minutes, I couldn’t spot the light from the person in front and I asked someone behind me to go ahead. Even though I was in the middle, I wondered if I was too slow and if I should head back, as I didn’t want to pace of the group to depend on me.  Soon, I met Peter and the rest of them who were ahead and Vishal (KP) had spotted a snake on the tree and I got to see its tail. As we waited for the others to come, after debating a lot with myself, I decided that I will keep up with the group as far as possible.  Soon we were on grassland and we regrouped here and then went in and out of a small forest and then we were back on the grassland.  We walked up the grassland for a bit and finally put down out sacks near a huge rock on our left from where I could see clouds in front and below us in the crack of dawn. It was beautiful :) I went and sat down on the rock staring at the beautiful thick clouds, behind which were mountains. At a distance below, I could see the road lit by the light of the truck and hear its horn. I was waiting to get deeper into the forest now, where all I could see was green, all I could hear was the song of the stream, all I could feel was the breeze and all I could smell was the wet soil :)

On a ridge :)
We now headed up the hill on our right and once I was on top of it, there was no looking back for me! I was so sure I will finish the entire trek no matter what :) I saw beautiful lush green mountains all around me :) I was in the middle of the entire group. A few trekkers were on the hill in front and a few on the hills behind. I thoroughly enjoyed the trek alone up and down a few of those green hills on the ridge, listening to the stream on my left and to the song of the whistling thrush singing away to glory :) Every time I was on top of a hill I would lift my hands and enjoy the breeze and every time I was on the saddle, I would enjoy the warmth and make a funnel around my ears with my hands to listen to the whistling thrush sing. To my left, there were patches of forest in the shade of bottle green in between the florescent green mountains. To my right were mountains far away colored in bottle green with patches of clouds on them. The sky was covered in clouds and gave a misty effect the whole time and I could not see the sun.  I think this was mother nature’s favorite painting  :) Monsoon trekking is the best thing that can happen to a trekker! :)

Misty mountains :)
It was around two hours since we started trekking and I was starving. I munched on an apple now, listening to the whistling thrush sing waiting for Peter and the rest of them to come. Now all of us headed up the next hill and a few more and regrouped on top of one of the hills with beautiful views 360 degrees around us :) All of us were wet already, walking in and out of clouds and the minute I stopped walking, I started to feel cold.  Muthu asked me what I want for breakfast and I told him I want hot filter coffee! It started to drizzle now and I sat on a rock facing the wind munching on a sweet bun. Once everyone were done eating, we headed to the saddle ahead. Some of us went left, only to realize that we were headed in the wrong direction.  We gave a shout out to Karan and figured out he was on the next hill to our right and then all of us headed that way. We continued out walk along the ridges, enjoying the beautiful views Mother Nature had to offer and then entered the forest with thick vegetation. We were now descending from a peak which was at around 1200m to a stream which was at 900m. The leeches started to crawl up our feet! Bloody blood suckers! Mentally, I was prepared for more leeches attacking me and hence I wasn’t too upset with the number of leeches on my shoes and I made my way through the thorny bushes and beautiful trees jumping on a broken tree trunk once in a while. The last few meters to the stream was a steep descent. I had to skid on the loose mud to land on the base of a tree ahead, holding the branch of a tree behind (if I was lucky to find one without thorns). Soon we reached the beautiful stream on which the water looked like milk :) I dropped my sack and ran to a bolder near the water and freed my shoes and socks of a few leeches and dipped my feet in the cool water. There were a few leeches crawling towards me, so I quickly put on my shoes and went and stood another boulder, listening to the stream which made its way amid the beautiful forest, while the guys were having a ball taking a dip in the cool water.  We now filled water and then crossed the stream.

The gorgeous forest :)
Peter and KP were figuring out which way to climb up then took a big step up the soil wall. I looked up at Peter and told him I am not sure how I was going to do this and he told me “Mind over body Keerthana!” and then KP gave me a hand and I was up. I now walked behind both of them on a steep ascent, amazed by Peter’s speed and KP’s eye for details. KP spotted a bicolor frog camouflaged in the dark brown leaves and twigs and within a few minutes he spotted a gorgeous florescent green colored pit viper on a tree :) The three of us then went ahead admiring the elegant trees waiting for the rest of the team.

Camouflaged bicoloured frog :)

Gorgeous florescent green colored pit viper :)
Once everyone were there, we headed up to our right and then went down to the stream and regrouped once more.  I threw out a few leeches crawling up my shoes and then we were back in and out of a forest. I was happy seeing the grassland :) I stood on the huge boulder for a bit, staring at the forest we had just exited and the mountains and the clouds behind. I then turned and made my way up the grassland turning back every now and then to look at the gorgeous green mountains. I was again in the middle of the group with a few in the team ahead on the next hill and the rest on the boulder near the forest. I was now on top of a small hill and got an awesome 360 degree view all around me :) To my right were a lot of small hills, all florescent green, having a trail on them (the trail was distinct but looked unused as it was the same color as the florescent green hills) and on the remaining sides, there were mountains covered with patches of forest. I stood there for a bit in tranquility, listening to the whistling thrush :) I then headed up the hill only because the view from the top would be even better, turning  around 360 degrees every now and then. Soon I met Peter and the others who were munching on a snack.

Beautiful small hills :)
 This was the 1100m peak, the highest we had planned to scale on day one, although we had scaled another peak which was 1200m earlier in the day. The peak was covered in clouds and I was told I missed the awesome view by just a few minutes. I was pretty positive that I would get to see the view before we left the peak :)  I made sure my shoes and socks were leech free and then munched on chocolate cake while Peter was telling me where we were on the map he had. He had marked 6 trails on the map and we were on trail 3. We had to finish 4 by the end of the day. It was around 12:00 Noon now and we had trekked for more than 7 hours, covering 9 kms (aerial distance as per the map). What made the trek hard was the ascending and descending. We had scaled a lot of peaks till now. We had 6kms (aerial distance) more to go for the day. This was mostly descending so it would take us lesser time. Raj had found a deer’s antlers in the forest and got it to the peak. I was right, soon the clouds cleared on one side and I could see the beautiful small hills far away and similar ones closer to me :) In between were hills in different shades of green. To the left was betta, which I couldn’t see due to the clouds. I could hear a truck! I was sad that after walking so long, we were still so close to civilization and we may hit some jeep track or enter an estate! Then Peter told me that we can hear the sound from kms away which made me feel better :)

The mighty mountain with gorgeous waterfalls :)

We now headed to the left towards the next peak. We avoided stepping over fresh Bison crap here and there. As we walked on the ridges connecting the 1100m peak and the next peak, we spotted very small patches of forest in the middle of each hill and wondered how the forest was there, as there was no stream flowing there. Maybe it was because of the direction of the wind and the rain. One person in the team wanted to quit now and asked for an exit route. Peter asked all of us to continue the trek to the next peak and had a talk with the guy who later came along. We were now walking on the highest ridge in the area, before entering a forest and the views were jus breadth taking! There was a huge mountain to my left with one big waterfall and a few here and there on it! It was gorgeous! :)  Peter, Sankar and KP were discussion how they tried to reach the top of that mountain, but in vain in last year MSM.  Karan had seen a Bison resting and it had run away into the forest after seeing him. All of us went and sat at the entrance to the forest looking at the gorgeous mountain with waterfalls on it to our right and the small hills far away to our left. Most of us were tired and I was feeling a little drowsy, Peter sensed this and asked us to start trekking again. Taking one last look at the gorgeous mountain, I reluctantly went into the leech infested forest taking steps on Bison foot prints.  The trail was made by the Bison and hence it was relatively easy to walk in the forest without having to duck in and out of thorny bushes, but we had to jump over Bison poop and walk quickly to avoid the more leeches up our feet. At some points in the forest, we came across thick vegetation of plants which were around 2 feet tall, Muthu spotted a snake at one such area. Mostly when we were entering and exiting this kind of vegetation, we would come across creepers (which made it difficult to walk as my legs were getting tied down) and thorny bushes.
One of the things I thanked Mother Nature for was this: At most of the points in a forest, there are a few things that make it hard for me to trek, but never had there come a time when all the hard things presented themselves all at once. I have observed, if there are leeches, we were generally on an animal trail, which made the trek relatively easy; if there were creepers or thorny bushes, there were no leeches; if there was an ascent or descent too steep, there were trees with flexible branches or creepers around :) And the biggest treat for surviving all the odds were the gorgeous views that I got on the ridges and in the pleasure of walking amongst thick vegetation and crossing beautiful streams in the forest :)
We continued our walk in the dense forest and stopped once to make ourselves leech free. This time, I choose not to, as I felt a few more will crawl up my feet, in the process of me trying to remove a few. But when I stopped, waiting for the others to pull out leeches from their feet, I could feel them sucking my blood! Bloody blood suckers!  Bijesh was the worst hit. I looked away when I saw his frozen feet covered in blood. We then went up the hill and then came to a very small clearing from where I could see mountains covered in clouds to my left and there were thorny bushes and creepers to my right though which I made my way into the forest. We were now downhill and I slipped on the wet mud and in the process of trying to hold onto a tree in front, I hit my right thumb into the bark ending up with a wood in my already cut nail. The pain was unbearable for a bit, and I felt the whole nail will come out due to the pressure. We were then on the vegetation with 2 feet tall plants when it began to rain. Sankar was saying as per the forecast it would rain at 4:00 p.m. and yes it was! While some of us were trying to put on jackets, while Peter tried to remove the wood from my nail with a swizz knife while KP was asking me to calm down. Parts of it came out and I told them we will look at it once we camp and soon we were on our way down the forest making way through the creepers and thorny trees.
Now we were walking up hill in the forest and I was desperately waiting to get back on the grassland. And thanks to Mother Nature, we were soon on grassland :)  It was beautiful here. The grassland here was very dense. I walked around 100m from the forest and sat down on the top of the flat hill cleaning my shoes & socks and then staring away to the beautiful green mountains in front. All the mountains were relatively closer here but with a forest in between. Peter was on a hill to my left and as I was munching on a sweet bun, some of us thought we can camp on the saddle between the hills we were on and Peter was on. Since we would freeze at night if we camped on the grassland, Peter told us to continue the trek into the forest (which was to my left, behind the hill Peter was on) and camp on a saddle in it. I got up and went up the hill where Peter was and the view from here was just breath taking! :) I went down the grassland in awe at all the mountains around covered in patches of clouds and I could hear the stream far down to my right. I now sat on the thick grass, got covered by it and felt at home as I stared at the mountains all around me :) I just didn’t want to budge from here. I reluctantly got up after a few minutes and continued my walk downhill on the beautiful grassland covered in creepers and every now and then I stopped to untangle my shoes tangled to the creepy creepers. I stopped at the point where the grassland ended, leading to the forest and sat down on some bushes with the others, waiting for the rest of the team to come. KP was telling me that the beautiful mountains in front were betta! :) Finally! I got to see the mountains that I want to climb someday :) I have heard so much about them :) The gorgeous mountain to the right of betta which was bottle green in color as it was covered in dense vegetation was betta :) After a while, once Peter, KP and Karan figured out which was the best route to descend with the least number of thorns, we followed them to the right. Now it was a steep descent with thorns and creepers everywhere and I had to think twice before holding onto anything for support. After a while we were on a creeper free trail, but that meant more leeches! KP had spotted a tortoise! :) I patted it on its shell and KP asked me not to go too close, as it would withdraw and stay inside for more than an hour and the others would miss seeing it. I acknowledged and bid the tortoise goodbye and was on my way downhill amid thin trees with way to move in-between. Peter told us to walk ahead a little, till we spot a place to camp at a saddle. After a while, few of us found a little clearing in front of us and few of them found a better clearing 20m uphill on the left, but clearly this was not a saddle. We waited at the better clearing for Peter to come and once he came and looked around the place, he decided we would camp here for the day as it was getting dark already and we were very close to the stream and hence had water for cooking. It was around 6:00 p.m. now. We had trekked for more than 13hrs for the day and had covered 18kms! :)
Few of us went to the stream to collect water, while the rest of us started to make tents out of branches, rocks, rope and tarp! :) I was in the tent making team, and this was the 1st time I was pitching a tent with these materials and I was overjoyed! :) I was helping Peter pitch a tent. We first cleared the area from stones and leeches(as much as possible) and then tied 3 branches together and made sure they stood firm on the ground and placed a similar thing around 7 feet away. We then places around 8 feet long branch connecting these 2 structures on top. We then placed one tarp on the ground and one tarp on the 8 feet long branch. We then tied the 4 corners of the tarp with rope and tied it to a small rock to make sure the tarp does not have any creases (to ensure it does not collect water and then drip on us from below). And tadaaa the tent was ready :) I then went and started making soup. Once we drank the yummy hot watery soup in our tent, Subha decided to call it a day. It was dark now and I began to pitch in to make Maggie with a few others. It was drizzling on and off. Half the group which had gone to get water was back and a few of them were missing. Since Karan was with the missing team, Peter was confident that they had headed to the planned camp site for day 1 and since they had GPS and food with them, there was nothing to worry about.  Finally, Maggie was ready and I made sure Subha ate too, because we had trekked a lot on day one and we had 2 more days to go. Ensuring that I was covered from head to toe in my sleeping bag, hoping against hope that there is no place for a leech to bite except my face, I closed my eyes and fell asleep in no time :) I woke up a few times at night to hear the rain drops hitting hard on the tarp and I could feel my feet getting a little cold. But due to the exhaustion, I fell asleep in a few minutes.
Peter woke us up at around 6:00 in the morning. When I got up and sat up all groggy looking at poor KP who had not slept the whole night, he told me a leech was on my cheeks! I thought he was kidding and ignored him, but when he asked me to touch my cheeks, I found dried blood! Yuck! Bloody blood suckers! I got up and gave my sleeping bag to KP who then caught up with some sleep while we heated milk powder and water and added some sugar to eat with cereal for breakfast. Once we were done eating, Subha and I went to the stream which was beautiful with a small waterfall on its right to clean our boxes. We then went back to our camp site and packed our backpacks and were ready to start our trek :)

Trek in the jungle :)
We now started our descent in the dense jungle :) The descent was pretty steep. I kept clinging on to the branches of trees till I could find another one which was thorn free and the process continued. There were a lot of times when I didn’t follow Peter on the trail he made, reason being, if he was a little ahead to my left/right, I would take the shortest route to reach him instead of tracing the path he had made. As I put my feet on the ground filled with dry leaves, I kept wondering a few times if a snake had laid eggs below! This motivated me to walk right behind the person in front! There were a few times when Sankar and Vipin would take go in different directions and I would be right behind. I would shout out to Peter and then go wherever he suggested.  We were back to an area in a forest covered with dense vegetation and creepers. We then ascended a bit and waited here. Peter and Sankar were trying to find the best way to our right through a dense cover of small trees. The branches of these trees were entangled in such a way that we had to duck and go under them, or squeeze ourselves through them. It was a little tricky with backpacks on. Once they found the best way out, I followed Peter, squeezing myself between branches, crouching and crawling under the next few and then I was finally out of the tangle! :) Peter and Sankar went ahead in different directions and I didn’t know which way to head. Assuming they were figuring out which way to go like before, I asked the entire group to wait here and I was trying to memorize everyone’s names.  After a while I called back to Peter and he told me I should have followed him (Sankar was with him now).  All of us then headed downhill to our right and soon came across a stream.  We followed the gorgeous stream downhill and I took a sip of the cool water and continued my way along the many small waterfalls made by the stream and finally came across a huge fallen tree. While I was deciding if I should duck down and go on the other side of the tree or take a right turn, Raj called out to me from my right! I was glad to see Raj smiling; it meant the other 5 were safe :) I jogged to my right and followed Raj on the trail. We then came to a clearing, where 5 of them had camped at night. I put down my backpack and ran to the gorgeous stream, threw away my shoes and dipped my feet in the cool water :)
Beautiful stream :)
It was amazing how the 5 of them had made their way thought the dense jungle at night. I listened to Raj, Muthu & Karan as they narrated their adventure :) Soon Subha joined me and the two of us were watching all the guys jumping around in the water having a blast after the exhausting descent :) It was now time for us to head back. We wore our leech free shoes and started our trek from the clearing where the 5 of them had camped and took a left on the trail. We walked up the trail for a bit and then crossed the river with a helping hand. I went and sat on a rock on the other side munching on an apple waiting for the others to come. We were now on a hazy trail to our right which was infested with leeches. We climbed/jumped over a lot of huge broken trees on our way, crossed a lot of small streams and walked along streams. There were a lot of leeches inside my shoes and I ignored them for a while. At one point where we had to take a right at a stream, away from it, most of them decided to clean their shoes. I thought it was a wise idea and I removed my socks to find too many sucking from one point. I freaked out for a bit and threw them into the water and Peter ensured that there were no more on my socks! Bloody blood suckers! Disgusting creatures! Poor KP was the worst hit now and I felt disgusted seeing loads of them on his feet and turned away only to find Sankar applying Savlon wherever possible on his feet. I then distract myself by looking at the beautiful forest and the stream :) It was now time to head right and we crossed a few more streams and walked along some of them. Fatigue was giving in and I was praying that we reach grassland soon and we did! :)

Gorgeous waterfalls on a misty mountain :)
Thanks to Mother Nature, all the hard work paid off :) Initially, all I could see was few trees on both sides and some mountains covered in mist to my right. But as we ascended, the view on the right got better (with more mountains in sight) and then we reached a flat area where there was 360 degree view :) I could see stretch of beautiful mountains covered with mist above them and with dense forests in-between in front, a huge mountain with dense vegetation all over and a gorgeous waterfalls at back and a trees at a distance to my left (that’s where we were headed next) and right. I sat on a boulder, cleaning my socks and shoes from leeches while waiting for everyone to come. Most of us were tired and we decided to break here for lunch. After munching on a lot of Khakra with Cheeze, we headed to our left. After taking one last look at the beautiful waterfalls on the elegant mountain, I followed Sankar and Vipin on the grassland. We came to a point where we could walk to our left and into the jungle, or walk up the grassland for a bit & then head down into the jungle. Sankar went left and Vipin went up and I just waited there and told the others to wait as well. Once Sankar shouted out from the jungle asking me to follow, few of us went left on the grassland and into the forest and then went up a very steep descent clinging onto trees and loose mud. Most of them had followed Vipin and we met them on the top. After a few ascends and descends in the forest, we were almost running out of water. All of us were sipping on water mixed with electrol as fatigue was giving in and we rested near some huge rocks in the forest. I looked around me and the forest looked the same in every direction! We now followed Peter and soon hit a stream.  We crossed another stream and climbed the roots of a humungous tree and then up a wall made by the tree’s bark and then were on the other side of it and on a trail. We followed a stream for a bit and when we had to deviate from it, Peter told us that this would be the last water point for the day and we had to each fill 2 liters of water. 

Sweet water from the stream :)
We were now at a spot with 3 trails around us. One was to our left, and then heading straight up; to our right were two more trails out of which one was branching to our left another going straight. All of us first followed Peter to the left and then up and then came back realizing it’s the wrong route. Then we headed to our right and after covering some distance, realized it’s the wrong route. It started to rain now and I put on my jacket. We then followed Peter on the right trail which deviated to the left and waited for a bit. I was feeling a big hard lump below my toes on the left feet from quite some time now. I thought it was a leech which was fed well and wanted to remove it now as most of us were waiting while a few of them were figuring out which way to head. I removed my shoes and socks to find nothing, not a leech, not a rock. I put on my socks and shoes and felt the lump again. Not knowing what it was and assuming a rock must have gotten in again, I continued limping now when they had decided that this too was the wrong way! Welcome to betta with GPS, you will still be lost! :P But since we were with Peter, there was not a moment that I panicked not knowing where to head. I was sure he would figure that out very soon.  All of us now headed left and up (the first trail that we thought was right) and continued our trek up the trail.
The beautiful humongous tree :)
We continued our walk in the forest and came to a clearing where the trail deviated to the right and there were huge leeches crawling up my feet here and we had to wait for Peter to tell us which way to head. As I was marching in the same spot waiting for Peter, I was glad to see the sunlight after walking in the tree cover for so long. We headed to our right once Karan confirmed and after a bit, to our left, we could see grassland on the top. There was a trail going to the grassland and I was tempted to go on it. All of us were now waiting for Peter. Vipin was saying that we need to continue walking in the forest as it was the shortest way to our destination, else we will be going up and down the grassland. Raj had found a bullet and all of us were admiring it. Once Peter was there, I followed Vipin who was leading us. He spotted a beautiful florescent orange pit viper on the trail, to our right. I cautiously made my way to the left, on some rocks and through webs and continued walking along the trail. The trail was ascending and descending and had leeches on it. It started to rain heavily now and I continued walking along the trail and we soon hit a jeep track! :) To our left, the trail was deviating to its left and right; and to our right, the trail was heading to a village. All of us regrouped here and then headed to our right.
We walked up the jeep track and took a turn to our right and walked along the neatly trimmed bushes which were fence to the coffee estate. The trail curved to our left and then went downhill and the first turn to our left, we found ourselves in front of a small temple with enough shelter for all of us to camp. I dropped down my bag, removed my shoes and stepped into the temple. I limped till the main door only to find it locked and I was tempted to ring the bell in front of the door, but Peter told me not to (as it may attract unwanted attention from the villagers).  I now sat down and turned my feet to find 2 toes blistered beneath. So it was not a leech/rock that was hurting me all this while.
View from a hillock in a village :)
 Peter told us that we can join him to explore the village we were in. I was contemplating whether to stay back and rest my toes so that it would be easy to trek tomorrow or push myself and explore the village and trek tomorrow. I listened to a few suggestions that hinted I will be fine and headed out to explore the village with Peter and 7 others. I wore my floaters now and headed down the jeep track in front of the temple, only to find a lot of leeches crawling up my feet. Rajeev was having problems with his slippery slippers and the both of us went back to the temple, put on shoes (bad idea as my toes needed to breathe) and jogged back to catch up with Peter and the others. The place was covered in mist and it was hard to spot the team. I shouted out and got a reply and then Rajeev and I went to our left, into an open area covered in grass. We joined the rest of them and then all of us jumped gates and fences to find ourselves amid cultivation. We spoke to a few locals who were working in the fields and then spotted a hill behind us, which was the highest in the area and decided to climb it. We trespassed a few houses (some with dogs) and some more fields and then went up the little hill. The view of the colorful fields below, the trees around them and the mountains far away all under a cover of mist was so soothing and a perfect ending to the adventurous trek that we had that day. After taking a lot of jumping pictures, we sat in silence for a bit enjoying the spell of rain and then retraced our route back to the temple, as it was getting dark and all of us didn’t have a torch. We had covered 20 kms on day 2.
My toes were in worse condition now. They were very sore and a lot of water kept oozing out. Sankar gave me a cream which I applied and it started to burn. I sat nursing it for a while, till someone made soup. Once I finished drinking the soup, I went and sat with KP and the others who were around the pot cooking Maggie. Since I was starving, I sat right next to the pot to taste the Maggie every once in a while to make sure it was cooking just right :P Once Maggie was ready, I served it to everyone who did amma tai and then ate my share :) It was now time to go to sleep. I lay down tucked up in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of insects (and few others snoring  :P), staring at the beautiful fireflies and soon fell asleep.
En route betta :)
It was around 7:00 a.m. the next day morning when I heard a few people talking and got up. We were supposed to leave to Betta by now, but most of us were still asleep. My toes had gotten worse. The blister had now spread to 4 toes and I could walk by putting pressure only on the left heels. Once I was done brushing, I went limping to the pot which now had water and tea powder boiling in it, warming myself. Once all of us were done drinking tea with/without milk powder (we had choice even on a trek :P ) and munching on khakra and cheese burger, I wrapped each blistered toe with a tape and then put on my shoes. I was eagerly waiting to scale the highest peak in this range, standing at 1387m :)

En route betta to a village :)
11 of us had the energy to scale betta. We went uphill and straight ahead instead of taking a right turn. I realized it was easy to jog so I jogged for a while, till we realized it was the wrong route. Once we were on the right path, on the jeep track which we had taken yesterday, I started to jog downhill again. Once I was at the exit spot (from the forest) of day 2, I waited for Peter to tell me whether to take the left or right turn ahead. He told me right and I started to limp uphill. I was now worried whether I will make it to the top. We now came to a flat land from where we could spot the peak and this motivated me to scale betta and I was sure I would! :) We now went zigzag along the trail and up a few hills, in and out of a few forests. And we were soon on a ridge that was going to take us to betta. The plan was to start at 7:00 a.m., but we started only at around 8:30 a.m. We had calculated that the entire trek to betta and back would take 5 hours and I didn’t want to slow down the group. So I kept pushing myself to keep walking up the steep climb to betta, admiring the mountains around covered in mist. I could now spot the betta peak and I was waiting to get on top! :) I pushed myself and walked up an even steeper climb and soon was on the top! :) I was elated! :) There were a few stones and a lamp made out of stone on the top which made a temple. I removed a few leeches that were in my shoes and sat down staring at the mist around praying that it would clear and I get to see the view from top :) Raj gave Subha and me beautiful purple white flowers :) The rest of the gang came and sat around and everyone were busy yakking .I wanted some quiet, so I asked Peter if I could sing and then started to, once he gave a go signal. I felt at peace and on top of the world, while singing “On top of the world” :)and I thanked Mother Nature for all that she had done to help me scale this peak :) The mist cleared for a bit and I was able to see the other hills below and the beautiful blue sky :)
Those of you who like the original, please don’t commit suicide :P
It was around 12:00 Noon now and time for us to head back. We had scaled the peak in lesser time than calculated :) Unintentionally I became the sweeper now. I sucked on a lemon and slowly limped downhill. We zigzagged our way across the hills and forest, regrouping once in a forest to munch on khakra and drink the sweet water from the stream and then headed back to the temple. Once at the temple, we cleaned the place, packed and got ready to trek on jeep track for another 5 kms to reach the nearest bus stop. I now rang the temple bell and as I heard the beautiful sound of the bell, I was happy with myself for completing the 3 day monsoon mission and to have survived all odds and thanked Mother Nature once again :) As I limped away from the temple, I realized my mind had won :) We had completed 56kms at the end of the trek :)

My mind had won :)
“To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits.” (Sir Francis Younghusband)
Thank you Peter, Sankar and Karan for organizing this amazing trek from CTC and thank you team :)
Thank you Peter for all the beautiful pictures :)
Thank you Priyanka for sharing the beautiful quotes :)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Surfing with the Swamis - I caught my perfect wave :)

28th & 29th April 2012

“Is this your room?” a man yelled at us, when 5 of us were busy ROFLing at around 1 a.m. in the bus after which we decided it was time for us to go to bed. It was around 8:00 a.m. the next day morning, when swami Gaural welcomed us into the blue colored surfing swami Ashram in Mulki. All of us freshened up, ate a fruit and played TT till one of the swamis called out to us. He led us to a raft which was parked on river Shambhavi and the eight of us hopped into the raft. We headed diagonally to our left and we passed an area where they were dredging and then another area where they were fishing and after around 10 minutes, the swami parked the raft on the shore.

The Ashram :)

All of us hopped out of the raft and carried the surf boards lying down and walked on to the other side of the sand stretch and hit the ocean :) It was beautiful :) I was tempted to run and jump into the water, but I waited till the swami taught us the surfing technique instead. The swami introduced himself as Satya. He was a lean sun burnt teenager with a pony tail, who looked very calm and had a smile on his face.
The Surf Boards

The front part of the surf board was the nose and the rear was called the tail. The tail had a leash attached it, the other end of which had to be tied to our not so strong leg. We were instructed to stand on our feet and lean forward enough to fall off and the leg which we used to keep the step was our strong leg. Mine turned out to be the left leg, so the leash had to be tied to my right leg. We were now instructed to lie down on our stomach with the hand next to our shoulder, lift our chest and then sit up with the strong leg in front and the other leg in line with it at the back. We did this a couple of times and then four of them headed to the sea, while the rest of us sat to watch and learn from their mistakes :) I saw all of them just enjoying lying on the surf board the first few times and then just fall off from the board the next few times. I really didn’t think it would be that hard, as I had gone for an aqua camp a year ago and I had managed to balance myself on the surf board in a dam.

Swami :)
It was now my turn to surf! :) I put on a life jacket and tied the leash to my right leg, carried the beginners surf board with my right hand and headed to the sea with Satya. I had made up mind to just stand on the board the second I catch a wave. It was taxing to just walk into the sea with the waves hitting me and Satya told me to drop the surf board (SB) on the water to my right, with the nose against the waves, and to press the tail every time the SB hits a wave. This made it easier for me to maneuver my way into the sea with the SB. Once we were in the calm zone between two waves, Satya asked me to get onto the SB. Once I did, he held the tail and waited for a wave to pass us. Once the next wave was near, he asked me if I was ready and I sure was and he let go and asked me to stand on the SB. I was able to sit on the board for a second or more and then I fell off :) I was pleased with myself for being able to sit on it in the first attempt and I made up my mind to stand on it in the next few attempts. The second attempt was almost as good at the first one and Satya told me that I did pretty well and we should head to our left.  We came back to the shore, then went to our left and then got back into the sea. This time Satya took me further away from the shore. We were in the calm zone and I guess it looked like it would take longer to catch a wave here, so Satya suggested we head a little more to our left. While he was swimming, I lay on the SB enjoying paddling parallel to the coastline. We were close to catching a wave and Satya asked me to stop and held the tail. Once I caught the wave, I managed to sit for a second or so and then fell off. I repeated this couple of times, till I landed hard on the sand and decided to stop for the day.  Satya told me that the waves were breaking hard that day and it wasn’t really my fault that I couldn’t stand on the SB. Surfing in the sea was definitely much harder than surfing in the dam and if not cut across the waves by standing on the SB which was my initial goal, I was determined to at least stand on the SB the next day! :)

Swami on Surf Board :)
I went and sat next to Subbu and Jitha on the shore and soon the three of us were having a sand ball fight! Once I was covered in sand from head to toe, I went into the sea to wash myself up and enjoyed playing in the water. It was around 12 in the noon when all of us headed back to the Ashram.  I quickly washed up and then sat flipping through a surfing magazine, while waiting for lunch to be served. Once all of us were sand free, we went to have lunch. I gulped down the delicious watermelon juice and had huge helpings of kichadi with papad and some sweet upit. Once we were done eating, we washed our plates and I watched some of them play TT for a bit and then decided it was time for me to catch up on some sleep and woke up after around 2 ½ hours at 4:30 p.m.
Arti and I took our cups of ginger tea and sat on the stairs leading to the backwaters. The water level had risen. There were a lot of coconut trees on either side of the river and hills of sand here and there on the opposite side due to dredging. It was beautiful and calm here. Soon we were joined by Neelima and the three of us enjoyed our evening tea chatting away to glory :) After a while, everyone were there (including a few local kids who were being thrown into the water by the swamis and all of them were having a great time) and Subbu went surf board paddling and all of us had a good time watching him trying to balance on the SB and Jitha was eagerly waiting for the perfect shot :) I went kayaking to and fro to the other side of the river and enjoyed the quietness all around me.
It was now time for us to head to the beach to see the sunset. Due to the cloudy weather, we could hardly see the sun, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pleasant weather, by first talking a stroll on the beach with Arti and standing in the spot where the sea met the river next to a few Sanderlings and later on jogging along the shore till the sand hills. I was soon joined by Subbu, Priya, Bhatta and Jitha. Initially Priya and I wanted to make a gubbachi goodu and shake hands below it, but it soon became a magic box when Subbu and Jitha dug in, to form roads perpendicular to ours and all of us shook hands under the road and then together broke open the road. “The best things in the world are free - and worth every penny of it” :) We then covered Subbu in sand from head to toe and Bhatta was did a palti over him! :) It was time for us to head back and I again enjoyed the jog on the beach :)
"... wind in my hair and the sand at my feet ...." :)

I told Subbu that I would like to kayak back to the ashram and after he and Satya warned me that it was upstream and that it would be hard, due to my persistence, they agreed :) I walked with Satya till the kayak and happily hoped on to it and started to kayak immediately as it was getting dark. Satya told me to kayak to the other side of the river first and then kayak my way upstream right next to the shore (instead of kayaking diagonally to the ashram) and that he would come back for me if I hadn’t reached by the time he came to pick the other  half of the group. I happily kayaked without stopping, humming songs in the twilight, enjoying the serenity :) I kayaked for around 15 mins, enjoying paddling. It was dark now and Satya came back to get the other half of the group and on his way, asked me if I was okay and I told him I was fine and that I was loving it :) He told me I was very close to the ashram and went to get the rest of them. I continued to paddle and after around 5 mins I stopped for a second, only to be pushed back by the current.  I decided I will stop only at the destination and after a curve, I heard Subbu call out to me :)
I could hear tabla, manjira, kanjira and kids singing :)  Priya, Neelima and I washed up quickly and joined the kids who were singing bhajans. An idol of lord Krishna was kept in the middle of the mantap, which was lit with lamps. These lamps lit the entire room and it looked beautiful :) There was a positive vibe in the bhajan room and I enjoyed putting tala with the tala and singing with the kids :)

Waiting to spot the fireworks :)
Dinner was waiting for us. I gobbled on chapathi with potato curry, rice with dal and yummy chocolate ice cream :) After dinner all of us went and sat on the stairs leading to the backwaters. It was dark, except for the light from a factory far away to our right and the light from the tower next to it which was blinking at intervals. The moon was blurred as it was covered in clouds, but I could see a faint reflection of it every now and then in the river.  I don’t know what occasion it was, but we could see beautiful fireworks in the sky for a while.  The water level had gone down now. Bhatta and Jitha were imitating Anu Malik and the rest of us were ROFLing. We started playing dumb charades with really funny movie names. It was around 10:30 p.m. when we decided to call it a day and went back to our rooms. Neelima made tea for the three of us and we chatted away till 1:30 a.m. and then Neelima, Arti and I decided to catch up on some sleep.
It was around 7:00 a.m. the next day morning when I woke up. I met Dhruva who told me that I could wake the others up and we could go to the sea in 15 mins. Soon everyone were awake and in surfing clothes, busy fighting for fruits! I went and sat on the compound facing the sea relishing a mango and then an orange :) Dhruva called us to the raft and while half of us got onto it, four of them lay on a SB clung on to the leash of the SB in front of them and Priya who was first in line, held onto a rope tied to the raft and Dhruva switched on the motor :) It looked like fun and I was waiting to do that when we would return.
Since the entire beginner’s boards were taken, I took the professional SB and hit the sea :) Satya was not to be seen, so I decided I will try to surf without an instructor. I reached the calm zone, got onto the SB, turned around 180 degrees and when the wave came, I tried to stand, but ended up falling (I guess the surface of the board didn’t have as much grip as the beginners board). I repeated this once more. I then spotted another swami, Shyam close by, but even with his guidance, I was unable to stand on the board a couple of times. Since it was hard to just get to the calm zone, I decided I will conserve my energy to give it a shot on the beginners SB.
Once I got a beginners SB, I got onto it and paddled my way against the waves which was fun and sat on it facing the sea.  Dhruva came to me and then we were hit the calm zone. I got onto the board and turned around to face the shore. Dhruva caught the tail and let a wave pass by and then asked me if I was ready and once I said yes, he let go and asked me to stand on it. I managed to sit on it for a second or so and then fell off the SB. I did this a couple of times and just fell off without standing a couple of times. I was trying to surf a little further away from the shore compared to the rest of them and I asked Dhruva if I should try surfing a little closer to the shore. He told me to try it here, because if I get it right here, then I can stand on the board for a longer time :) This motivated me and I was glad Dhruva was pushing me to try it and showing me a thumbs up every time I managed to just sit on the SB.

In a barrel :)
I cut across the waves, with the SB in my right hand and once I reached where Dhruva was, I got onto the SB and turned around 180 degrees. Dhruva caught the tail and asked me if I was ready. This time, I just knew I was! Once he let go of the SB, I lifted me chest and hopped onto the SB, with my right, oh no left leg in the front and stood on it for a few seconds and then off I fell! :D I had caught the perfect wave! :D I was elated and beaming at Dhruva who was showing me thumbs up and calmly smiling back at me :) There was a small confusion though, why did I put my right leg in front at first? Was my right leg the strong leg?! Dhruva and I headed back to the shore and he asked me to stand straight and gave a push from the back and when I took a step, my right leg was front! So apparently, my right leg is the stronger leg. I practiced the technique of standing on the SB on the SB lying on the shore a couple of times and then went back to the sea with the leash tied to my left leg and the SB in my left hand. Once I was in position, Dhruva let go of the SB and I stood on it! :) I ended up falling in the next few attempts. Dhruva asked me to remove the lifejacket as it was weighing me down. I did so and the next few times, I actually surfed my way to the shore! :) It was amazing and I loved it! :)  In my next attempt, I fell off the board onto the sand landing on my chin. This hurt pretty bad and I could feel the pain all the way to my right ear. I decided to stop and told Dhruva that I was done for the day and surfed my way back from the shallow area to the shore and lied down on the SB. The girls gave me some water and shade and after a few minutes I was fine.
It was now time to head back to the ashram. It was my turn to lie on the SB and be dragged by the raft. I was the first in line and there were four of them behind me. I made sure I was balanced right and gave Dhruva a go signal. Once he started the raft, I realized that the hard part was not balancing on the SB, but was holding onto the raft, as my arms started to hurt! I just rested my head on the SB and it felt good. I felt like I was sleeping on the water surface (with no SB in-between) :) In-between I kept yelling out to Dhruva to stop the raft and after around 10 grueling minutes, when we were around 50 mts away from the ashram, I let go of the rope :) I paddled away to the bank. 
I ran up to the balcony while the others played TT and was soon joined by Subbu. I sat leaning on to a pillar, facing the breeze and enjoyed the view of the coconut trees and the kytes flying around them, the river Shambhavi, the sand hills and the water beyond till the horizon :) Lunch was now ready and I ran down :)  I gobbled on salad and tomato rice, gulped down lemon juice and ended my lunch with Chikoo paysa which was delicious! All of us sat on the sofas in the drawing room, flipping through the Surfing Swami photo diaries. The photo diaries were a few years old, but I could easily recognize all the swamis who were our instructors who were just kids in the album :) They had surfed in Andamans, Seychells …  and at a secret spot (which only Satya knows of) :) Satya was telling me that being in a barrel is the best thing and how it took him a couple of years to master the art :) Satya then played a surfing documentary video for us. It was about surfing around the world, how it was more than a sport and spiritual for some (like for the surfing swamis :) ). Bhatta who was fast asleep was giving background music once in a while.
Swami :)
We all went back to the backwaters now and Bhatta was busy jumping over the raft and budding photographer Priya was trying to get the right shot :) Dhruva then took all of us to the other side of the river near the sand hills on the raft and we then walked across the seaweeds and the area filled with sand from the dredging. On our way to the sea, Dhruva showed us a whale’s bone lying on the shore. I followed Dhruva when he wore a chappal which was washed away on the shore to cross the stretch filled with thorns in-between the seaweeds on the sand. I went into the water, staring away at the sun to my right. I then ran along the shore to my right and sat down enjoying the sunset. I enjoyed the soothing song of the waves :) I envied the bird which was flying above the sea :) I spotted a fish jumping out of water. I just loved my time alone with nature :)

Twilight :)
It was time for me to head back. I reluctantly got up and walked in and out of the water and stood in it. The twilight colors were beautiful :) The sky was pinkish orange and the water was reflecting the color in the sky :) I stood in the beautifully colored water and enjoyed the 360 degree view around me :) It was time to say bye to the sea. I reluctantly walked back, slipping into two slippers which were not matching and reached the raft. The sky was clear today and I could see a few stars. Once we reached the ashram, I hopped out of the raft along with the others. Dhruva was going back to the other side to get the rest of them and I hopped back into the raft :) The motor had been making a noise from noon. I asked Dhruva if we would reach back with the help of the motor or if we would have to paddle our way back. He said it would be hard to paddle back and told me one of his adventurous stories. Once he and another swami were on their way to the ashram upstream and it was pouring cats and dogs at night when the motor gave up. No matter how much they paddled, they were unable to go upstream and hence they went to the nearest land and wait there till dawn. It sounded adventurous only because they were safe in the end! I was sure that even if the motor gave up then, we would be able to paddle ourselves upstream today :) I could see light flashing on and off from the fishing and dredging areas and asked Dhruva if it was our people, but he told me that was the light flashing from the poles just to indicate that it was dredging/fishing area. He now pointed out to our far right and I could see the silhouette of our people. All of them hopped into the raft and we were on our way to the Ashram on the noisy raft which moved even more slowly due to the additional weight and we were going upstream. I turned back and started into the darkness and saw flashes of light here and there. I asked Dhruva if there was a light house there and he said there was. Dhruva was telling us that the dredging was being done mainly to allow ships to move in the river. I had thought it was being done to save the village from drowning if the water level increased. When we reached the Ashram, I was glad we didn’t have to paddle our way to it :)

I had caught my perfect wave :)
Priya and I packed our bags and joined the kids in the bhajan room. The tune was catchy and I hummed along :) It was now time for us to leave. I reluctantly left the bhajan room, put on my backpack and bid adieu to the swamis. As I hummed the bhajan on my way home, I thought about catching my perfect wave – it was the stay in the ashram and getting coached by the humble swamis; “The sun, sand and surf”; the sea and its beautiful song; the kids and bhajan they sang; my time spent alone with mother nature and definitely the perfect wave that I caught while surfing :) Thank you Subbu and Bhatta for the plan to Surf in Mulky :)
Thank you Neelima, Bhatta, Arti and Jitha for the beautiful pictures :)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Kodachadri – The Dreamland! :)

April 7th & 8th 2012
There are times when you ask God, why me?! And then God replies, why not you?! Only after the darkest hour of the night, do we see the first ray of light every morning. This trek started off with why this trek (and not Venkateshwara!)? (When we were walking on a dried up lake with no views around) to where the hell are we? (When we got lost on one of the ridges, en route Kodchadri) to thank you God for everything! (When we spotted the rainbow, the sunset, the moonrise, the sunrise and a gorgeous sparkling waterfalls). This trek was all this and much more, because when it rains, it pours! :)
At around 6:00 a.m., when 16 of us, got down from the disco light wobbly bus at the Nagara Fort feeling all drowsy, after a tiring night journey (Neelima felt we were off roading on a highway! :P – the bus was that shaky!) On entering the fort, I headed left, away from the group and walked along the walls of the fort. I could spot the road, with a lake on one side and plantations on the other, with mist above. I could hardly see anything 50 meters away. I could hear the chirping of a lot of birds and now, I was wide awake! :) I circled my way next to the walls and then headed to the top of the fort. There was fog everywhere and on one side I could see the Darbar and the kitchen area. We took a lot of pictures here and assumed that the rest of the trek would be like a trip. Neelima and Jinu were busy trying to get down some stairs (stones protruding out of a stone wall!), I thought the better of it and took a longer route to get down and sat down under a beautiful tree with florescent color leaves, listening to the birds chirp and staring at the sun covered in mist. Once they were down, we explored the darbar and the kitchen area and then joined the rest of the group.

Nagara Fort

On our way to Sampekatte, we spotted a peacock crossing the road. We had breakfast in Sampekatte and then realized that the bus got punctured, so we started off our trek from this village. The best part about trekking with Ravi is, he will not take the usual routes. He didn’t want to trek from Hidlumanne Falls. I am always game for exploration, so I was super exited about any route, but the normal one :) But we started walking on the tar road and this was not what I intended to do! Some of us were eating the cashew fruit on our way and a sweet lady offered us to give some from her garden. Part of the road was being laid and I felt like we were walking in the city! Finally, we hit the mud road which curved right and walked a little ahead, only to hear Ravi tell us that we have to take a u-turn! For those of us who have trekked with Ravi before, we know that this is nothing to worry about. We found another road at the curve, took it and soon all of us were walking in a land with thorny bushes here and there.  We walked across a tiny patch of paddy fields jumping the fences and then followed an almost dry stream leading to a lake. Some of them wanted to take a dip in the lake and since this trek was supposed to be an othla trek, we decided to make it a pit stop. While some of us were sunbathing with the wind on our face, the rest of them were floating in the muddy pool having a goodtime too! :) Mat man was looking all pregnant with the mat stuffed to his shirt to keep him afloat!

Why this trek?
We met an old man, who told us that we would reach Kodachadri via the forest if we went left or via the jeep track if we went right. Obviously, we had to head…?? :) We now headed to our left towards what looked like forest from a distance, but as we walked into the area, we realized that it was a dried up lake and we could see bamboo plantations and thorny bushes here and there again! This was the point where I thought why this trek! Jinu, Vinodh, Neelima and I walked along the stream upstream, drank water near buffaloes (after warnings from Neelima, which had after effects) which was our last water point and then waited for the rest of the group under bamboo plantations. Once everyone were there, we went off stream, into the forest! :)
Finally the fun part started. We were now walking in and out of forests and trails on flat land. I was so happy to be walking amongst the trees :) After a few kilometers, we stopped for lunch. We had snake chappatis with ready to eat curry! All of us ate like we have never seen food before and fought for pieces of paneer! Once we were done eating, we could either head left, walk more and reach Kodachadri or head right and reach Kodachadri early. Guess where we headed?? :P We took the left turn and after a while, the ascent started. We were still at 500+ meters altitude and had to reach 1300 meters! It was around 1:00 p.m. and the weather was burning hot. We kept walking in and out of forests without losing altitude, to avoid walking on the ridges, as we would get drained by the sun.

En route Kodachadri

After around an hour, at every tiny peak, we could spot the dam from where we started our trek, some building which looked like a school which may lead to the jeep track and some peak behind which Kodachadri was there and then we would head right into the next forest! A few times, I was leading and I was having a good time finding a trail in and out of the forest. At one point, I could hear a waterfall but to my vain, it was the sound of the rustling of leaves. After walking for another hour, we realized that we were not covering too much altitude, as we were walking in and out of forests. So now, instead of getting into the next forest, we decided to walk along the ridges. After a steep climb, we reached a point on the hill where it was very windy! :) I happily spread my hands and walked up the hill. When we turned back, we realized that the dam where we started was to out right, and the school was to out left and we were taking a semi circle route to reach our destination instead of the straight path! Of course the journey is more important than the destination! :) As we headed up this hill, it started getting cloudy and misty. I dropped down my bag at a point where there were a lot of rocks and admired a 180 degree view of the forest below and the backwaters with islands far away with my arms wide open! I felt like I could just take off if I were a kg lighter! It was that windy! :) How I wish I could fly! :) Reluctantly, I followed Jinu almost being knocked down by the wind a couple of times, to the next ridge to our right.

Where the hell are we?!
When Jinu and I stopped at the next peak, I turned around 360 degrees to greenery and mist all around me! It was beautiful! :) We spotted birds that were in mid air and unable to fly, due to the wind. Soon we were joined by Neelima and the three of us sat on a boulder admiring the view, spotting a track and wondering which way to head next. Soon the rest of them came and we debated whether to follow the trail into the forest of walk up the next peak to our right. Ravi pointed right and we climbed two more peaks to our right and then came to a stop on a peak, as we couldn’t see anything 10 feet beyond us! It was very windy and we had no idea where we were! :) This was the point where we thought where the hell are we? Neelima and I relished on the melted Bounville :) Ravi asked us to head further right and all of us did. This walk turned out to be just amazing!! :) We were walking on a ridge with the wind blowing from left to right and all I could see was fog all around me. Just to make sure I was right behind Jinu, I called out his name every now and then and headed in the direction of his voice. Every 100 meters, we spotted 4 feet stones structures. The minute we spotted garbage, we realized we were near the jeep track and all of a sudden, the mist seemed to have cleared a bit and Jinu, Neelima and I spotted the jeep track. We ran towards the jeep track and shouted on top of our lungs to let the others know that we had reached it! :) Jinu’s GPS read 16kms.

Rainbow!! :)
The beautiful clouds :)
The three of us started walking up the jeep track towards Kodachadri. Lot of jeeps were going up and down the hill. I hated walking in the dust! One of the jeep drivers, with a yellow OM bandana on his head, offered to drop us on time at the sunset point and the three of us readily hopped into his jeep. :) Thanks to him, we got awesome views! :) As soon as we got down from the jeep, to the east, we spotted a beautiful huge rainbow going all the way from just above the hills to the clouds high above. As we walked towards the sunset point, we could see two peaks full of greenery to our left and one of them was our destination peak :)

When we reached the sunset point, I was overjoyed! The sun was setting with the clouds below it! :) I sat on a rock admiring the sunset and soon the three of us were joined by a few more guys from our group. I stood on top of a rock and sang “Top of the world” as I was truly feeling on top of the world! :) Once the sun set, I stared into the twilight. After Neelima, Jinu and Thathagatha were done taking the pictures; I reluctantly headed towards Kodachadri with the others.  Our torches were on now and on our way up the jeep track I was singing a nursery rhyme, “Thank you God for everything” and the best part of the trek was yet to come! :)

"Top of the world" :)

I wish I could stay here forever! :)
After another hour of walking in the dark, we finally reached the Kodachadri base – bhattre manne. We met the rest of the group here who were waiting for us, munched on some snacks and then headed towards the peak which was around half an hour away. We reached a clearing in 5 minutes and guess what! We spotted the full moon with dense clouds below it! I was totally stunned by this view! I felt like I was dreaming and pinched myself just to be sure this was real! It was heaven! :) I have never seen anything this beautiful. I have seen such a view only on paintings and wallpapers and always thought that it was too good to be true! But here it was, right in front of me; it was real! I was spellbound! :) Thank you mother nature for such a beautiful sight! :) Reluctantly we all walked towards the peak, as we had to camp at the top. I kept looking to my left and then kept looking back, not wanting the view to get away from my sight. We came to a point where we had to get into a small forest and once we were out of it, we would be at the peak (from which we may not be able to get this view or the moon would have risen more and this effect would be lost). The only problem was, I didn’t want to stop looking at the moon and the clouds below. I told Jinu and Neelima that I would come with the sweepers and asked them to carry on. Tushar and Imran stayed with me and the three of us sat down in peace admiring the gorgeous full moon with the dense sea of clouds below it :) Every 10 minutes we decided we will go after the next 10 minutes and we ended up sitting there for a really long time. Once the moon had risen quite a bit we reluctantly decided to go.

The Dreamland! :)
We finally reached the Shankracharya mantapa. Leaning on the stone walls of the mantapa, I looked at the beautiful moon and our camp site which was lit by its light! After a few minutes, I joined the rest of the group and I started stirring the pot of soupy macroni :) I was starving. Once Neelima and I gobbled down the soupy macaroni, I started the fire and we poured the groundnuts into the pot. Head chef Anala was now frying the groundnuts and I was popping one into my mouth every now and then to make sure it was getting cooked :P Once the groundnuts were done, Anala poured them into a plate and asked Vinod to keep them away from me! I tried to steal them, but in vain! Neelima and I went and sat on a rock behind the Shankracharya mantapa with the Kollur town in view and had talks about life! :) Once the avalakki was done, on hearing the group call out to us, we went back and gobbled on it. Thanks to Anala, it was delicious.
Jinu, Neelima and I, now headed to the next hill with the tower on it (which was at a lower altitude). We enjoyed the view of Kollur for a bit and then headed back to the mantapa. Neelima and I were back on the rock, talking about life till 1 in the night and then we decided to catch up on some sleep.  I stared at the moon for a bit and then fatigue gave in and I was fast asleep. 

The Sunrise! :)

Jinu, Vinodh, Neelima and I packed our bags and headed to the sunrise point. By the time we got there (6:30 a.m.) the sun was already out, but the view of the sun with the clouds below was beautiful! :) (But, nothing could beat the moonrise for sure! :)) The four of us sat down on our way to the sunrise view point and started at the ridges and the clouds behind. Looking at the closest ridge, we were wondering if that’s the ridge we walked on yesterday, as we could spot the stone structures at intervals on the ridges. Since the ridge was too close to the jeep track, we concluded that we may have been on the other ridge which was a little far away from this one. Neelima could now hear barks break in the forest below the hill we were on. After she told us, all of us could hear it and we were wondering if elephants were down there :) After a while we headed to the top of the sunrise view point and I enjoyed a 360 degree view around me :) To the east, was the sun and the clouds; to the north, was the jeep track and mountains far away; to the west, was the Kodachadri peak and to the south, were hills in beautiful shades of green and red :) we were soon joined by Ravi and all of us headed to bhattre manne. All of us munched on buns and mayonnaise.  At 8:00 a.m., we took a group picture and headed towards Arashinagundi falls :)

The Clouds! :)

We were now descending to our left. We were in and out of clearings and finally on a trail from where I could spot the lush green Kodachadri peak and the one next to it to my left. I enjoyed walking alone, spotting no one ahead or behind me.  After getting into the forest, I enjoyed the walk thoroughly. The forest was just beautiful. It was lush green with tall trees and huge roots :) After 50 minutes from our start point, Neelima and I were on a jeep track and to our right was Santosh Mani’s restaurant :) We ordered buttermilk, idli and puttu.  As soon as we gulped down the butter milk, we were joined by the rest of the group. Neelima and I gobbled up the food, then went out of the restaurant, spread out the mat under a tree and took a nap next to a cow which was running around with the pole tied to it!

The sparkling Arashinagundi waterfalls! :)
Once everyone were done eating, I had another glass of buttermilk and all of us headed towards the forest leading to Arashinagundi falls. At the second clearing to our left from the jeep track, we found a trail going into the forest. We entered the beautiful forest and now, started the descent to the falls. Jinu, Neelima and I were walking ahead and I was mesmerized by the forest. After around an hour or so, we could hear the waterfalls! :) The three of us ran to the right and we were now at a pool, which was right above the Arashinagundi falls! :) This pool reminded me of the pools in Venkateshwara. The water was crystal clear and there was a small waterfalls which ended in this pool. I was tempted to jump into it! We could not head down to Arashinagundi falls from here, as there was a steep gorge ahead. Neelima and I sat on a boulder under a tree adoring the tiny waterfalls and the pool below us :) Reluctantly, all of us headed back upstream and then crossed it and started to ascend. The ascent was a little steep, once the three of us and Tushar ascended, we sat on a huge tree which was fallen and the three of us made plans to venture into a jungle sometime, and build ourselves a shelter to stay in, create fire, etc. (basically use all natural things to survive) :) Soon we were joined by the rest of the group and we started the ascent and reached the jeep track in sometime! We headed to our right (parallel to the water flowing downstream) and then found another trail to our right. Jinu checked the trail and once he okayed it, we literally jogged our way to the Arashinagundi waterfalls! :) The three of us were screaming on top of our lungs on seeing the falls! :) It was a gorgeous (around)100 feet waterfall! :) It looked like the waterfall was falling straight from heaven! :) I was sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream, staring at the gorgeous waterfalls! :) After a while, I joined Jinu and Neelima to eat Holige and then the three of us went up stream to get a better view of the waterfalls! I was hooting seeing the waterfalls and the beautiful green pool below :) I sat on a huge boulder I could see the sparkling water hit the rocks around 90 feet above, and then split into smaller sparkling water droplets, finally merge at around 40 feet and then flow down the rocks into the pool. The waterfall was in the middle of a huge rock wall which was curved around 140 degrees. To the left of the waterfall was a beautiful withered tree with red and golden leaves falling from it and there were groups of butterflies going in circles to my north east and North West near the rock walls. I felt like I was in dreamland! :) I lay down on the rock staring at the sparkling water droplets and every time the wind blew, I could see them drift a little to the right and I could also feel the water spray on me :) We were soon joined by the rest of the group and some of them had a good time taking a dip in the pool.

I was in love with the forest :)

I packed my bags and started back up the trail and waited for the rest of them enjoying the sounds of the jungle for some time. Once everyone came, instead of heading up we headed straight to walk parallel to the jeep track and get on it later on.  I was in love with the forest. It was simply gorgeous :)
It got humid now and the ascent was a little tiring. But, after around 15 minutes of steep ascent, we had reached the jeep track which had a board saying “Way to Arshangundi falls” pointing in the direction we had just exited! :) I was sweating profusely from head to toe. I pulled out my mat and just lay down, waiting for the others.  Once everyone reached, the three of us headed towards the exit point, which was supposed to be 9kms away! I walked and jogged along the beautiful jeep track covered in golden brown dried leaves, which was going up and down and finally reached a junction where we took a left turn and 2kms later, we were at the entrance of the medicinal plants area. Jinu’s GPS read 41kms (the jeep track walk turned out to be just 4kms).  The three of us went to the stream below and I sat on a boulder dipping my feet into the cool water. After a while, I went back to the bridge and sat along the walls looking at the entrance to the forest, feeling glad that I came on this trek and thanked God it was me! :)
Thank you God - it was me :)

Thank you Ravi, Jinu and Tathagatha for organizing this awesome, othla trek which turned out to be difficult! :) It was superb! :)
Thank you Ravi, Neelima, Jinu, Tushar and Tathagatha for the beautiful pictures :)