A vast expanse of blue, dotted with slithering flakes of white and embellished all across with shades of the purest orange; Greenery as far as the eye can see, with clouds sweeping across, as if white curtains are billowing in tandem with the direction of the wind, allowing very little sunlight to seep through – just some examples of the treat that nature bestowed on 25 odd trekkers at Kodachadri over the last weekend. For this treat, all the 25 of us are indeed indebted.
Organized by the Bangalore Mountaineering club, this trek would take its place rightfully among the best travel experiences in my life. What does a nature traveler or a trekker for that matter, seek? An escape and a communion; escape from monotony, dullness, vulgarity, trivial obsessions, watches and the whole paraphernalia that exemplifies madness; communion with beauty, clean air, variety and all the little sounds and faint smells that only the all-embracing generosity of silence can help manifest.
Kodachadri, 380 kms from Bangalore, in Shimoga district, is 1343 meters above sea level. We left Bangalore on Friday night, a little after 10 in two tempo travelers. As one by one, people boarded the tempo, my mind was engaged in feverish activity, heightened by a curiosity that every new face provoked – a curiosity that can only be fed by free flowing conversations entailing an uninhibited exchange of thoughts and carrying the instantly recognizable tone of sincerity and genuineness!
We reached Shimoga at 3.30 AM and stopped to stretch our legs; some people were in deep slumber while some others gathered outside the tempo to sip hot tea. The second tempo joined us much later and after a nearly 45 min break, we resumed. The winds had become chilly and the road ahead, winding and narrow.
We reached Hallimane home stay a little before 7 AM. We had just enough time to complete our morning ablutions. Homemade coffee and rice bath awaited us for breakfast. Willem, our fellow trekker from South Africa relished the simple food and was keen to know the ingredients of every item served. I am sure he would end up finding food unpalatable back home, having had a taste of the spices here. He admitted as much.
The home stay, in typical old fashion, had a certain charm to it. The rooms with simple flooring were cozy after the long tempo journey. But soon, it was time to start the trek. Kiran, one of our two guides, briefed us. I remember Abhinav, the 6 year old kid (this was his 15th trek!) examining all our faces during that small briefing with a scientist-like expression.
At the sight of Idlumane falls, like 10 year olds with no qualms and shame, almost all the guys were frolicking carelessly in the water with gay abandon in no time at all. The water was chilly but soon our bodies got acclimatized. This also gave some time for all of us to reflect on our blood donation to the leeches until then. After an exact 30 mins, as if there was a wall clock chiming somewhere nearby to remind us of the journey ahead, we changed into fresh clothes and resumed.
To trek is to breathe clean air, cherish every step towards the horizon, share camaraderie with fellow trekkers, test the endurance levels of one’s bones and muscles and above all experience a wave of thrill running through one’s veins. One crosses logs, steps aside blood thirsty leeches, clears branches obstructing the path, feels pricking thorns, encounters gushing streams and listens to numerous stories from fellow trekkers. I doubt if there is a better alternative to building bonhomie and breaking ice. These extractions on the physique heightens all our senses and mentally, results in a stimulation that is hard to describe.
The trek was challenging as the terrain was unforgiving and slippery in patches. One can never predict with certainty, the flora and fauna, the next 100 meters in a typical trek would reveal and this one was no different. This readiness to embrace uncertainty and endure a pleasant hardship, perhaps, prepares the mind to be receptive unleashing creativity in the process.
As late afternoon approached, we hit the jeep track. The forest department guest house was visible in the far distance and we were surrounded on all sides by mountains draped in lush green. I found myself walking alongside fellow trekkers in groups of twos and threes, catching nuggets of conversations, sneaking in and out of them, pitching in with a few remarks, but mostly happy just listening in.
We reached the guest house around 4 PM and had a late lunch of sambar rice, rasam rice and butter milk. The facilities were basic but none of us were looking for comforts anyway. After tea, armed with torches and decked in warm clothes, we climbed further towards the sunset point. Alas, mist did not let us take in the complete beauty of the surroundings. Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have meditated at the temple near the sunset point. Philosophically and quite poignantly, the temple had a certain disquieting eeriness about it, with gentle winds ringing in darkness and dangerously plunging depths just a few feet from its perimeter.
The sole of my shoe gave away and I was beginning to get worried about the rest of the trek, but fortunately, I was able to pull on. With the torches lighting our way down to the guest house, we descended. We had more than an hour to go before dinner and so we listened to a few songs, fooled around pointing torches at one another and at the sky to spot constellations and planets.
Even in the absence of electricity, we felt perfectly happy admiring all the stars which appeared to suddenly advertise their huge numbers. In the city, one rarely has time to pause and admire the night sky and moon light, but here, far removed from the hustle and bustle, we realized how powerful even reflected light could be!
Stepping into the house, we found Pravin narrating stories of snakes, cobras in particular. In rapt attention, we listened. The room was lit by two wicks with the flames flickering slowly to the gentle breeze.
Post dinner, some chose to sleep indoors while some others (including yours truly) opted for tents. Snuggling inside the tent, loving the warmth and coziness, I listened to Hemacharan talking about work, love and the broader challenges of everyday existence. Before I realized, it was 4.45 AM and I could hear sounds outside the tent. People were waking up to catch the sunrise.
The sunrise I was fortunate enough to behold that morning is one of the most beautiful things I have laid my eyes on. As layers of white clouds on the horizon arranged and rearranged themselves against subtle shades of blue, an orange ball propped itself up from behind the brown and green vegetation of the mountains. Such a powerful and revered thing, it looked so insignificant and powerless for a few moments! We clicked numerous pictures, unable to believe our good fortune!
Back at the base camp, we got ready for the day ahead. By 7.30 AM, we started the climb down via the jeep track. At regular intervals, we stopped to munch sundry things that each of us had. Dry fruits, buns, biscuits, energy drinks, chocolate bars, Glucon – D packets – we shared them all. Abhilash and I found ourselves interviewing Rakesh, the city editor of Bangalore mirror. He patiently answered all our questions, in the process, giving us a sneak preview into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the media industry. Reporters, stories, deadlines, common sense, networking, page 3, civic issues – the more we talked, the more I came to envy Rakesh!
As we neared our destination, We found a stream just a km before the home stay and gladly jumped in again to cavort a second time in as many days.
On the way back to Bangalore, after a late breakfast at the home stay, we reached Shivvapanika fort around 1 PM. At the entrance to the fort, we spotted a cobra and soon, we were milling around it trying to capture its each and every move on lens. Pravin patiently held it for us to click and touch. With Willem’s help, we thought, he almost trapped it inside a sleeping bag but the next second, it emerged out slithering rapidly towards the village kids who had gathered about. The drama reached its zenith when Pravin ran behind it and in a flash, had it again in his control!
The fort, massive in its expanse, was every bit picturesque, with a view of a lake, dense greenery, grazing cows and distant villages.
Our tempo driver drove as if there was no tomorrow and for a good 10 minutes, we raced with a two wheeler.
After a heavy lunch at Shimoga, Abhilash suggested that we play Antakshari. Sindhu kicked off the fun with her sweet rendition of a classic. Sathya, Sandeep and Sundeep, along with Kiran pitched in while Yousuf and Shantanu took part too adding to the fun quotient. When we exhausted all the typical Antakshari songs, Abhilash, Sandeep and Rakesh talked about affairs of the heart. As the others gathered around them, the tempo with its yellow light provided a perfect poetic backdrop.
A brief drama ensued with a technical problem in one of the tempos. It gave an opportunity for all of us to come together one last time to tell our goodbyes. Most of us got emotional for it is certainly rare when an intense and warm bonding in a large and diverse group develops just in 2 days.
Hoping that I keep running into all these wonderful people I met for the first time in these two days. In a socially connected world, it is quite possible for most of us to go on to become good friends…!
Editor’s Note: Welcoming Siva, our latest Guest Author, onboard. He is a wonderful writer and a fellow Gladiator. Visit his beautiful blog Records in a Journal here.