The 14 of us, belonging to diverse backgrounds, decided to celebrate the Valentine’s day out in the wilderness.. So on the 13th of Feb 2009, as planned, we ventured out on a trek expedition to
A DVD-coach, push-back Swaraj mazda was available for our service.. A small break in the mid-way and then we were at Belthangadi early in the morning of 14th.. We checked in to a hotel to freshen up and then went in search of the forest officer to get his permission to trek to the Kudremukh peak.. We purchased the remaining necessary items for the trekking en-route to the starting point of the trek - Navoor. We also got hold of a guide named "Nemi" from the same place.. So, there it began, at least 3 hours late, at about 12:30pm – the 33km trek which promised to bring along a lot of adventure..
We were taking turns to carry the tent that was quite heavy when compared to the usual trekking tents.. The trek path was quite arduous and since there were a few first timers in the group, the pace was considerably slow.. Our first destination was a water stream where we could re-fill our water reserves although we had enough reserves to last for a day.. The journey went on for hours, with small breaks at times, but otherwise against a steep path that was taking us slowly towards the peak of the Kudremukh range.. To make up the delay in reaching the top, we chose to trek through the pathways made by the rain water down the hill, as they formed short-cuts.. The catch with these paths however was that they were just too steep and also irregular plus there was dense vegetation just next to the paths, which many a times was that of a thorny creeper.. The afternoon sun was blazing hot and we had a really tough time to get acclimated to this hostile environment..
Those anxious moments…
A few hours passed by in the same manner.. I was leading the path, as I usually prefer this position while trekking.. However, my friends from
About 20 minutes later, we were a group of 14 again sitting next to a water stream.. We filled our water bottles and again continued our trek, which just never seemed to end.. The guide kept promising that the place to pitch the tent was just 2km away and this he started saying right from the beginning.. Probably he knew no number beyond 2! Alright, we kept trudging along.. Night fell soon enough to add to our woes and we continued marching with our torch lights.. In any direction the eyes could see, it was nothing but a thick vegetation of grass and other thorny bushes along the surface and a few evergreen trees.. I simply couldn’t imagine how we could ever find a flat surface where we could pitch-in our tents in that thick forest cover.. Besides, the end of winter season is known for the forest fires in Kudremukh and all along the path we had seen vast amount of areas charred by the forest fires.. And exactly in front of us was a hill, the top of which was caught by the forest fire and the flames were heading downhill slowly but steadily.. It was a race against time and the latter had gained a head start..
Action in the dark…
The light from the forest fire dimly lit the top of the hill as the flames were slowly spreading downwards.. The pole star twinkled along, forming the only source of direction on a moonless night.. With each passing minute, the hopes of making it safely out of the woods was crumbling down.. We braced ourselves for whatever that was coming ahead and kept marching down the thorny dark forest cover.. The rucksack was weighing too heavy on the shoulders as they were in that position for more than 8 hours in a row.. We repeatedly kept squalling the head-count to ensure everyone of us were still in the group, lest some wild animal pull one of us out and we continue trekking unnoticed.. The 3 torch lights, although didn’t suffice, were leading us along.. Soon, we encountered a small bridge – two wooden planks tied loosely across a deep crevice – which had to be very carefully traversed, only one at a time.. Few of us had crossed to the other side and we were waiting for the rest of the group to cross the bridge, as we watched one of the guys from the group, trying to balance himself on the bridge against the shaky planks and the cold wind.. All of a sudden, we heard some ruffle of dried leaves just right next to us, which was followed by a series of noises of the twigs breaking and dried leaves being crushed down under heavy footsteps.. Our torch lights were flashed across frantically in the direction of the noise but the darkness of the dense woods held an upper hand.. We all stood standstill in shock and horror with the torch lights held against the growing noise.. The crunching noise was headed right in our direction and it was fast approaching..
Still a long way…
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the day…” a high-pitch alarm tone woke us up early in the morning.. First thing – a head count to ensure we were still 14! The experience from the previous night was still very fresh in our minds.. The sudden crunching sound that had left us shell-shocked had almost approached us when all of us had turned into fanatic patriots in an instant! “Bolo Barath maatha ki.. Jai.. Vande.. Maatharam.. Vande.. Maatharam” slogans from 14 contrasting, scared-to-the-death voices had chased “whatever animal/???” away in a jiffy.. The crunching effect had continued.. But this time in a direction away from us.. A moment of triumph!! True patriots never die they say!! Thoroughly shaken but still in one piece, we all had quickly trekked the rest of the journey.. The guide had seemed to have had lost his way twice already but he was our only hope.. A few minutes later, much to our relief, our flash lights fell on a partially broken house in the middle of the forest.. We were at the Lobo’s house..
A legend goes among the locals that this very place – Lobo’s house – is a dwelling place for the super-naturals.. Many locals claim to have seen a lady in white garments holding a candle near this house and also they claim that they hear certain strange noises near a fountain that once upon a time was the favorite place for Lobo – a priest who chose to stay in the middle of that jungle during the late 90s.. One can even see the necropolis of Lobo next to the house.. Nevertheless, the same place was our camping site that night.. The condition of the house was just pitiable to say the least.. The roof covering had fallen off.. Not even a single door stayed in its place anymore.. The pungent smell from the droppings of the bats covered the hallway.. The skeletons from the wild animals laid strewn along the floor.. We somehow managed to enter into this very place, placing our legs in between the dusty wooden planks, carefully so as to not to disturb snakes, if any, lying between those planks.. We chose a room inside the house to light up our camp fire and to cook some Maggi as we were literally starving.. Maggi and a few fruits formed the dinner that night.. We secured the room by placing the wooden planks across the room’s entrances in X-shape to avoid any man-eaters gaining entry into the room and soon we were lost in the dreamland..
Destination – Peak…
Early in the morning, the delicious Maggi formed the breakfast too! After packing our bags with the most necessary items, we left the rest of our baggage at the Lobo’s and headed for the peak, which was a good 3 hours trek again.. The early morning breeze was heavenly and the surrounding mountain ranges glittered like gold in the dawn.. We sighted a black-buck and also a herd of deers en-route.. Soon enough, the group was split into 2 sub-groups as each group aggregated a different speed to trek.. We at the helm, after a while, waited for the second group to join us but never did that seem to happen.. We understood that they must have returned back to Lobo’s house and we again continued on our journey to the peak..
We went past several streams in-between and a few water-falls, so water was never a problem all along.. Although we had unloaded the extra luggage at the Lobo’s, this surely was an uphill task and the path was getting steeper by the moment.. A few hours and a few more guys decided to call it a day.. Ultimately, only 9 of us continued on our mission.. We went through the Shola forests and also saw the ruins of a Church that belonged to the British era.. Fortunately, the last 20 minutes of the trek was through an almost flat surface..
What followed was a brief period of excited shouts and screams plus the flash lights from the multiple digi-cams and the N-series phones, for having achieved the mission we had set out for.. The adrenaline dosage had suddenly hit a peak and we all were celebrating the feat.. We were at the helm of the highest point in the Kudremukha ranges and the feeling at that moment is simply unforgettable.. We took snaps in all angles like the models of a fashion event, most of them being posed at the edges of the cliffs and on top of the huge boulders.. We cooled our heels for a while at the top and after carving our names on one of the boulders, knowing that we still had 8kms of trekking left to head back to the civilization, we started our journey back to Lobo’s house assuming that our friends who had returned back would be safe and sound at the camp site..
We caught up with the guys who had chosen to stay in the mid-way.. We also called up the village-head of an adjacent village called Mullodi to prepare the lunch for us.. An hour later, we were 14 of us again, sitting by the camp fire at the Lobo’s house to prepare Maggi yet another time!! After a sumptuous lunch, we packed up all our tents and set out for another grueling journey of 6km..
This path was extremely muddy and dry.. Shoes, bags and a large part of our legs were covered by mud by the time we reached Mullodi.. A few moments later, we were all feasting on a delicious supply of sambhar and rice.. Even though there was hardly any space in the stomach as we hadn’t found a place for our morning ablutions, we still managed to fill ourselves with as much food as possible.. The feast ended with a rich and delicious cup of butter-milk after which we found it pretty tough to even get up from that place!
The jeeps rattled along the muddy road to the nearby town called Sundarnagar. We had called up for those jeeps while we were having our lunch at Mullodi.. On the way, the driver of the jeep was kind enough to tell us some more stories related to Lobo’s house and the super-natural theory associated with it, which made the journey quite interesting.. He even had a theory that his fore-fathers knew a ‘Manthra’ that could cure any disease! Hmmm.. Interesting.. Anyways, we reached Sundarnagar and we enjoyed some nice Kudremukh tea.. Soon, we were headed towards Hornad – a place of Pilgrimage, the abode of Sri Annapurneshwari.. We refreshed ourselves and after a reinvigorating hot water bath, we took the blessings from the goddess and also completed our dinner at the same place.. Next, it was all the way back home..
After spending more than 36 hours away from the civilization, we were thoroughly eager to get back home to get some nice cozy place to rest.. Our swaraj mazda however had different plans.. It broke down on the way and we had to take a KSRTC bus from Belur to reach
On contemplating about the trip, it might not have been the toughest of the treks that I have done, it might not have been a trek where-in I would talk about the leach-bites and the heavy rains, it not even might be a trek with my regular trekking group – still, this very trek had everything in it that I’m sure, we will all remember for ages to come.. The strong emotions that came along – when chasing away the animal in the dark, while eating the same old Maggi for the 3rd time in a row without a sniff of sadness, when drinking the water from the stream flowing down the rocks, when I heard the talks from Amit and Varun approaching me while I waited for them all alone, the looks on the face of Krishna after having known we were completely lost in the dark, the looks on Zulfi’s face as we flashed light on the walls of Lobo’s house in the dark, the guide’s impressive mathematics of 2km becoming 3km after walking a certain distance.. the light-weight feel at the top of the peak.. the ‘what-am-i-doing-here’ expression from Baskar when he was told he had to trek 4km more.. the way our faces lit-up on seeing the Mullodi village from the top.. the feel good factor that one gets at the abode of goddess Annapooneshwari – just everything will linger behind for a long time.. The 14 of us, we bid goodbyes to each other after those 2 days of bonding.. Now when I stare for a full minute at those pics of the trek group at the peak, I certainly do miss them all.. May be, it will be so till we all spend another of our trekking nights at those peaks, braving against all odds..
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